In the Long Run

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!

Zoom zoom.

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.


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6 Responses to In the Long Run

  1. I gave up driving years and years ago. I can still drive — on the odd occasion with John as passenger it would have helped if he’d stopped that distracting yelling (no, just kidding) — but choose not to. I was a menace on the roads because I would quickly lose focus that I was driving and drift off…not good.

    I have a recurring daylight nightmare that I will have to go back to California for my aging sister at some point and what will Barbie do then, dear thing?

    Hire a driver? Rely on the busy nephew? Public transport?! Drag John along? The last is not an option as we spent five hours one day trying to get off Montreal Island without going over any of those high, scary bridges he hates. I still have the map and route we took (at times through railroad yards) to do it. We called it, “Escape from Montreal” and considered it a great caper. And, yes, it CAN be done.

    Freeway driving is hell on wheels — any freeway. Smart of you to take a cab and close your eyes and think of England.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – “Escape from Montreal” would make a fine movie. Let’s find you an agent. My comfort zone with driving is narrow – in the city, I like limited-access roads so there’s not lots of stop/start nonsense, but just shy of actual freeways. In the country, I’m not much good at passing just barely mobile agricultural implements on two-lane country roads, or driving winding roads with no shoulders along lakes in western Canada and the USA. I like deserted four-lane highways – but then have trouble when they come to their natural terminus in big, honking (literally) cities. But – and it’s a big but – unless I move out of my comfort zone, I fear it will only narrow further, and I will be reduced to driving between here and the grocery store.

  2. Jim taylor says:

    Driving doesn’t bother me. I don’t care whether it’s fast or slow, wide or narrow — although I admit to strong preference for twisty roads over long straight ones. NOT driving — which was the state of most of my last few years in Toronto, jerking along in stop-and-go-a-few-feet congestion — tends to send my blood pressure through the sunroof. Legs and wheels were both intended to go, not to stand in line waiting…


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Maybe driving preferences are determined by where we learned to drive. I learned in medium-sized cities (nary a true freeway to be seen) and on the Prairies (hardly a turn in sight, much less a twist!). I share your dislike for stop-&-go traffic, though – we’re built for rest or for motion, I figure, not some weird in-between stage.

  3. Margaret says:

    I’m afraid it is just the opposite for me. For at least 4 yrs I drove my husband to Regina (a 2 hr drive) for eye appointments as he had Glaucoma and could no longer see to drive. No comment came from my family here in Arcola but after he died last year I am no longer capable to drive, according to my family! If I have an appointment in Regina they want to know about it and take a day off work to drive me. I have rebelled. I didn’t tell them I had an appointment until I was leaving my daughter’s house Sunday night. “Oh by the way, I won’t be around tomorrow morning.” Becky: ” It’s too late to get the day off tomorrow.” “Exactly. I’ll phone when I get home.”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Margaret – When it comes to driving competency and aging, it’s tough on both sides of that equation – the parent (I’ve observed) and the mid-life kid (I’ve experienced). Maybe they figure the two of you were safer than one alone? But living without a car can be crummy, especially in smaller centres (big cities having more options), so I understand your “rebellion”. Drive safely!

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