This truck does not exceed 100 km/hour.
Printed to be read at several vehicle lengths, this message now looms as uncomfortably large in my vision as mangled bodies in a shoot ‘em up movie from the theatre’s front row. Maybe a Denzel Washington shoot ‘em up. Not that I speak from relatively recent painful experience.
Isabel, stay in the moment.
At this moment, nose to tail with a commercial vehicle sporting this superfluous message, I’d pretty much already figured out that we have a disconnect of some sort, likely relating to acceptable top speed. My business trip to Toronto has occasioned this mad dash across one corner of this sprawling metropolis in the morning rush hour, and reminded me of the chaos that can arise from conflicting objectives.
Fuel costs being what they are, and energy conservation being a politically correct no-brainer, the truck’s owner seems set on a two-fer: getting marketing brownie points from a pragmatic operational-cost-cutting initiative.
We could drive faster—We’re not pathetic!—but we choose instead to Save the Planet.
Time being money, however, my taxi driver is apparently intent on setting a land-speed record and the Devil take the hindmost (or, at least, the woman now sitting in the hind seat of his taxi, eyes closed behind her sunglasses). He appears, in fact, to be a devotee of the misquoted but nevertheless iconic speech from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Speed limits? We don’t need no stinkin’ speed limits!
I lurch to one side as we swerve around the speed-challenged truck, into the path of an even larger truck. The irony of it all is not lost on me: reluctant to drive Toronto’s freeways, I have chosen a taxi to lower my risk.
You don’t have to be dying to have your life flash before your eyes. From the semi-related jumble offered up by my subconscious, I pick a scene from Los Angeles in the early 1990s.
A map (Editor’s note: reference to archaic paper product predating GPS) open on the seat beside me, I have worked my way carefully from hotel to freeway on-ramp. So far, so good. Now I just have to join the freeway traffic zooming along over my head, and drive for two hours or so to a rock-hunting site in the Mojave Desert. The ramp presents a tight curve, so my nominal 35 mile/hour street speed is substantially less than that as I reach the top and enter a traffic stream moving at 75 miles/hour. Yikes. As cars and trucks stampede towards me, I floor this rental sedan and cringe in anticipation of the sound of metal on metal. Behind my sunglasses, my eyes aren’t quite closed, but I studiously avoid the rear-view mirror for the next 10 seconds. Better, perhaps, not to know what’s gaining on me.
By the end of this week-long business trip to Anaheim I have navigated off and back onto this freeway several times, and I no longer cringe as I move from city-street to freeway speeds. Jumping 40 miles/hour in what feels like a few seconds is no longer notable: I just ramp up, as it were, and carry on.
Back in Toronto, with no sound of rending metal, I realize that this may not be a good day to die after all. As I open one eye and look out onto a scene made newly special, I wonder where my nerve went. Maybe to the same place as my muscle tone, since neither seemed to be needed anymore. Living in a moderately sized city, and vacationing in big/strange cities only through the Big Guy’s role as courtesy driver, I’ve gone soft.
Use it or lose it, they say, and that’s sort of true. As we age, we certainly lose it: ‘it’ being almost any capacity. Not using ‘it’ is a recipe for faster decline, but even regular use just slows the rate of decline in the short run: nothing prevents that decline entirely in the long run. As John Maynard Keynes said, In the long run we are all dead.
Indeed. But not today.
Here, today, in the short run, we are all zoom zoom (well, except for that pesky truck). And I have both eyes open again. I could get used to this. I could.