It was a typical afternoon commute: a little bit of hell with engine noises and a combination of classic rock and NPR tossed in. I just left Costco after picking up supplies on the way home from work and was pulling onto I-5 South.
The car had a wonderful cooked chicken smell that would have been disturbing as hell in other circumstances. Was that a random animal that crawled up inside the engine compartment and was slowly roasting? Was that smell coming off of me? It was possible; my AC stopped working at the beginning of the summer and the vents were putting out a steady stream of hot air. Don’t worry, though, it was a dry heat like fire or a branding iron.
The smell was from the freshly baked rotisserie chicken…that was cool. If I smelled bacon then that would not have been cool because that had been refrigerated at the store. A cooking bacon smell would have been indicative of a car fire. That was my canary in a coal mine. It wouldn’t have been a wave of overwhelming heat coming from the back because that would never have competed against the torrent of dry heat in my face.
As soon as I pulled onto the highway I saw that it was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see and I was on the hill heading down so I could see quite a way. Of course, I moved up to the last possible decent point before merging in. I honestly think it’s a genetic issue. I once tried to queue up at the end of a long line of traffic instead of zipping in at the last moment…I lasted about 20 seconds before I started having an anxiety attack. That sort of driving is not a great fit for me.
At that point, Waze chirped in to let me know it came up with a faster route. For those of you not familiar with it, Waze is a navigation program that relies on user input to let you know about traffic and other issues ahead of you on your trip. It’s like having your own personal astromech droid in your car helping you navigate, except it’s a bug s*** crazy Astromech droid that can shave precious minutes off your commute every day or route you through some not-so-shortcut through the boonies. Most of the time it works well; it’s just crazy enough to suit the kind of commute I have every day to work.
Waze was telling me that I could shave 15 minutes off my trip by taking the next exit. I could see the offramp up ahead, gloriously free from traffic. It looked wonderful. The catch was that beautifully abandoned stretch of road was 200 yards ahead and traffic was now at a complete stop. I had to do a quick calculation in my head: do I go around the 10 or 12 cars to get to my exit via the breakdown lane or do I give voice to the part of my brain struggling to keep me from being an a-hole in traffic? You all know me and know what my choice was.
I had the law enforcement angle covered if I was pulled over for this. I would point to the wisps of smoke that occasionally wafted from under my hood. “I think my engine is having problems,” I would say. My car is dying, but it’s a hopefully long, drawn-out affair as it battles inevitable senescence. The smoke itself was largely from an oil spill from a recent top off. I could have cleaned it up more thoroughly, but I figured if there was a little smoke coming off it then the engine may be tricked out of self-immolation.
With all of my irrational rationales safely accounted for, I pulled over to the breakdown lane and headed to my exit. I rolled about 20 feet before a large black SUV pulled out in front of me. “Aha, a fellow traveler,” I thought briefly. The SUV did not accelerate right away. I made a shooing gesture to indicate that if they were going to do what I was doing they would need to do it in a hurry.
But then I noticed that the driver was not looking ahead but was stopped and made eye contact with me in her mirror. She started shaking her head and brought up a right index finger into view, shaking that slowly as well. “No, no, no,” was the universal gesture. She was not pleased at all with my creative use of the driving space and was blocking me. Not cool. I was considering waiting in the still immobile traffic and was pulling back into my lane when I looked back up again. She was still at it with the finger.
At that point, I noticed a ring on that hand and it was a huge one. I was at the end of a long day of work and grocery shopping. A long day with at least 50 minutes of driving ahead of me before I made it home and doing another shift of being a dad for the night. (Being a dad is hard work, but totally worth it.) On top of that, I was driving a 14-year-old car that was slowly roasting me. The only plus side was that I was starting to give off a smoky Mesquite flavor; I was delicious.
I became angry enough to where I wanted to wave my finger back at her, but not the same one. I put my hand down because I was likely giving her the satisfaction of seeing me upset. The fact that she was in a huge, new-looking vehicle in cool comfort wearing a gigantic ring led me to one conclusion: this lady had entirely too much satisfaction in her life. The decision was made.
All that was left was a set of quick calculations on the fly. The conditions were dry, the shoulder was solid, I was in a 14-year-old vehicle but I had only 8000 miles on a new clutch. But the most important calculation was this if this rich a****** made me wait 10 minutes in traffic for no reason beyond her personal pique, then the terrorists win.
An old car with a new clutch has quite a bit of zip in it, much more than she probably realized. I was in first gear and already around her before she had the wherewithal to drop that freaking finger and clutch her wheel. I kicked up a little dirt from the shoulder as I decided to give her a wide berth…she was probably privileged enough to think that she was in the right to side-swipe me. But in truth, I was around her too fast for her to do much of anything. I quickly reach my exit and was back on the universally accepted driving space.
I looked in my rearview mirror to see her pulling out again to try the same thing with a white Jeep. “This lady has too much time on her hands,” I thought. I made it to the top of the ramp and waited patiently at the red light, took a deep breath, and relaxed. After a moment of thought, I realized I forgot something. I took a deep breath and said, “Pirate freedom!”* Taking time out to mark a victory is important.
When the light turned green I looked back and saw the white Jeep exiting onto the ramp well ahead of where she had been. Good for him. I made it home in good time and avoiding rubbing anybody else the wrong way. I talked to my wife and came to the conclusion that I needed to leave for work earlier and try to change my commute altogether. I also fixed the air conditioning so the only cooking smell in my car the rest of the summer was my food.
*Pirate Freedom is a freedom you take and is not given. And no, it is never meant to be taken seriously.