Saturday, March 31, 2012

Speed limit

On the last couple of trips between Maine and Massachusetts, I've not been exceeding the speed limit on I-95. I don't bother on Route 1 in Maine - the local traffic is such that the only time the speed limit is even possible is late at night, or on short stretches for seconds at a time. On I-295 from Brunswick to Portland it becomes possible to set the cruise control at 65, then at 50 through Portland, and drive sedately for most of the way in the right-hand lane. But it's only on the Turnpike that I can actually stay in the right-hand lane virtually the whole trip, some 40 miles, cruise control untouched, calmly watching everyone else speed past. Yesterday, for example, I moved to the left only twice, once for an old guy in a Dodge Dart and once for a semi who lost speed on a hill. I didn't have to worry about mergers; the on-ramps are so long in Maine that cars enter the Turnpike at speed, quite impatient to join the rat race.

My new technique is somewhat more difficult to maintain in New Hampshire, with its curious mix of grandmas and Massholes and other inveterate lane-changers, even though slowing is no longer necessary at the toll booth's, what with the new E-ZPass technology allowing passage at the speed limit (and still only $2.00 for 10 miles! what a bargain!); is achievable again in the 4-lane wastes of northern Massachusetts; but where Route 128 shares I-95, where civility and leisure give way completely to brute survival, disintegrates utterly.

That is the point of my experiment, civility and leisure. No more tail-gating, no more clenched fists at the speed-limiters in the left lanes, no more attempting to set a personal record in transit time, no more predictions as to the minute of arrival, and no more clenched guts when the record (3 hours, 10 minutes set several years ago on a late-night return) inevitably is never broken. And there are many other benefits. I don't have to think about cops, about the exact amount of overage - 5 mph? 10 mph?) that will escape their attention. I hardly have to check the rear view mirror anymore, worrying about the impatience and danger and possible handgun of that Audi owner coming up fast. Of course lane changes are rare, and the signalling and cruise-control adjustments and watchfulness, not to mention slight anxiety, that go with them. Better gas mileage, too. And the trip is leisurely; I've driven the Turnpike hundreds of time but am now seeing things not noticed before. The trip also seems shorter, even though it takes longer, the theory being that time passes more quickly when you're having a good time.

And so I arrive in Newton more refreshed, with more calm stored up against a new week in civilization. No wonder old folks drive slowly.

If this trend continues, in another 60 years I'll enjoy standing in line.

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