Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Where's the fire?

Which one will get it there faster?

I was presented with a chance last week to test my Christian Charity. Did I pass? Well, noooo. Did I tank it? Yeah, pretty much. After you read the narrative you may or may not agree with me. Bookmark it; we'll take a little detour and come back to it.

The weather guessers told us we were supposed to have a cold and clear stretch last week. I love cold and clear. We were told we were going to get some. Yeah, right. The Weather Gods love to play games with us. Their latest game was called "Layering". It seems the objective is to put a layer of really cold air on top of the somewhat cold air already here. I woke up Wednesday morning to cold and foggy. Looks like we had ourselves a genuine thermal inversion, a.k.a. an "Air Stagnation Alert". The man on the radio told us we were being cautioned not to drive any more than necessary. Hey, isn't that one of the reasons we ride to work in the first place? Less pollution and harmful effects on dear Mother Nature.

My schedule called for sitting in a coffee shop and doing virtual paperwork on my laptop. Somewhere along the way I had some paperwork that needed to be sent to Salt Lake City, Utah. Since it needed to be there the next day I was going to hand it off to FedEx. So chosen because I have an account with them. The only question that remained was how to get the package into their network.

Let's see. I could go about four blocks and drop my package at Staples. Or, I could ride about ten miles or so and take it to their facility in Corvallis. It's on the South side of town right near the airport. Convenient, huh? Total trip would be around twenty miles instead of eight blocks. Which should I do? That choice was like asking a tiger if he wants steak or hot dogs. The carnivore demands steak! By now we'd actually gotten a little bit of tentative sunshine. What were we waiting for? Off we went.

The road that heads out of Corvallis to the South is also known as Hwy 99W. Running parallel but a few miles away is Hwy 99E. Both converge much farther South at a place called Junction City. Catchy, isn't it?

Cops are always finding fresh victims on this stretch coming out of Corvallis. There's two lanes in either direction. It seems like it should be a fast stretch of road but the 35 mph speed limit seems to extend forever. On the bike I feel like I'm crawling along. I'm in this for the ride so I'm not in a hurry. Being on two wheels is too good to rush. A driver in a black Corvette doesn't share my philosophy and passes me on my left. About the same time a City of Corvallis black-and-white's coming at us from the other direction.

It's obvious that the Corvette driver's seen the cop as the brake lights flash. It's also pretty evident the cop's seen the Corvette when the overheads light up. The cruiser pulls a quick u-turn. Then, in a puzzling move, the cop turns off the lights and tucks in behind the 'Vette. They say the best safety device in the world's a cop in your rear view mirror. The 'Vette driver's the model of good behaviour. I can almost see his halo. Nonetheless I'm sure he's busted and so is he. Weirdly enough, the cop passes on the right and tucks in behind another car before passing it, too. This time the cop pulls over a pickup. I could hear the sound of long-held breath being released. These were two relieved drivers!

Now we'll take the fork in the road that turns us back to where we started. Speaking of speeding drivers, have you noticed that everyone's driving like they're going to a fire? It's getting so bad that I'm even seeing it from stop light to stop light. Mash the gas. Stomp the brake. Over and over. No matter how fast I'm riding anymore it seems like there's always someone on my donkey and tailgating who wants to go faster. It doesn't make any difference what the weather or other conditions are like. Stupid's no longer contained by any boundaries.

You'd think that slowing down and allowing a little more room would be such a no-brainer that even drivers with no brains would be able to figure it out. Wrong!! The Oregon State Police says that the leading cause of accidents here is following too closely. For "fatals" it's the same thing with a dose of excessive speed thrown in. It's like there's something in the air that infects everyone. It's not just a local thing. Check out these lyrics from a song by the country group Alabama. Here's a snippet:

I'm in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why

Don't know why I have to drive so fast
My car has nothing to prove
It's not new
But it'll do zero to sixty in five point two

Sometimes speed has a purpose. Like FedEx. But as a lifestyle? This isn't really meant to be a dissertation on bad drivers. It's all been done before. I'm merely setting the stage for what comes next.

Wednesday night. Supper's done. Katie's off with her sister. They're shopping at our mall. I have some shopping of my own to do for Katie. You know, it being that time of year, and all. Salem's a city about forty minutes North of here. Shorter by the freeway but longer via backroads. You know my preference, don't you? Salem's population is roughly double ours. There's some specialty stores I want to visit. This time Sophie's staying home. It's totally dark and extremely foggy. During the preride check earlier in the day I'd noticed that one of Sophie's low beams had failed to illuminate. That was ok for the daytime but not on a foggy night. She'd have to look like the CBR for a while. It always drove me nuts with that bike. ( I recently sold it )

On the front of the CBR there's two headlights sitting side by side. One side illuminates for low beam. Both light up for high beam. I wish I had a nickel for every time some well-intentioned but bike ignorant person told me I had a headlight out. Interestingly, on my ride to FedEx I'd passed right by Fred's Honda. Why stop there when there's a perfectly good Honda shop in Salem? Back to the short ride vs long ride; steak vs hot dog thing.

This time it's the VFR with the soft bags thrown over the seat. I hope the VFR's not jealous but it doesn't have a name. We head over the bridge into North Albany and then into the countryside on Springhill Drive. It's technically a country road but there's a lot of houses along it. Once you turn off onto Buena Vista Road you're truly into a rural area. This route more or less follows the Willamette River. Most of the curves are fairly gentle but there's a couple of technical sections and some really sharp corners. On a sunny day it's an awesome ride. Tonight I can hardly see but I know the road really well. No problem and I've pretty much got it to myself. Except for the fool behind me.

Not long before it was time to turn off onto Buena Vista Road I'd picked up an unwelcome travelling companion. All I could see were two bright headlights and some even brighter running lights. The headlights were fairly high. Like on a big rig. And uncomfortably close. I swear I could feel the heat of all the lights through my jacket. The stripes on my retroflective vest must have been glowing under the assault of the light beams. For a while I lived with it. My turnoff was coming and I figured I'd lose my tail. Most folks stay on Springhill. Not to be. It followed me onto the new heading. Still tailgating. I'm talking to the phantom driver in my head.

"Hello! Did it ever occur to you that there's a reason a guy on a sporty bike's riding this slowly?"

I consider speeding up and trying to lose this guy. ( or gal ) No, it's just too risky. I'm not willing to put myself in that position. Next choice is to force them to pass. This is the best chance to do it in. Soon the straight stretch will end and we'll be into the curves. Flashing my brake lights I signal right and move over while waving my left arm. In all that electron activity in the front of the vehicle they should see the sleeve of the Hi-Viz 'stich. The driver seems delighted to take the cue and starts to roar by. I get a good look at the vehicle as it passes. It's a Hummer. Not the new, more petite ( for a Hummer ) versions. It's the original. Wide, big, dark-colored, ugly, and totally offending my sensibilities. All I'll say is that I have some real issues with Hummers and the people who drive them. As it goes by I mutter under my breath,

"See you in the ditch somewhere!"

Have you ever wished for something off and on but never gotten it? Until that one day when the stars and planets align just right? For once my ship came in and I wasn't at the train station. A few miles later I see the rig and it ain't on the road, folks!!

What a bummer for the Hummer. It's quite a ways off the road. Seems that there's a blacktop ramp leading out into a field. Of course, it's only for loading and unloading farm equipment so the paved part stops after about twenty feet. The real road makes a sharp left. Too bad the Hummer driver didn't do the same. I pull onto the apron and see these deep ruts in the mud. All this rain on top of ground plowed into fine powder has created a farmer's version of quicksand. I hear the motor revving and can sort of see mud flying among some rising steam. Best I can figure, the rig's buried to the axles and the driver's making it worse. I thought these things could go anywhere. Guess you have to be smart enough to know how to use the tool.

Maybe it's the accumulated disgust for bad drivers. Maybe it's the revulsion I feel for people who drive rigs they have no business driving. In-your-face vehicles that are obviously compensating for some serious personal deficiencies. Maybe it's the anger I feel for all the drivers who are so willing to put me and others in danger to satisfy their own selfish agendas. Maybe it's a swirled mixture of all-the-above. I don't know for sure. What I do know is that I wasn't about to offer any help. The driver was well enough to gun the motor and further bury the Hummer in the mud. Everybody's got a cell phone these days. I'm sure a Hummer driver's got an especially fancy one. There wasn't any way I was going to pull the thing out of the mud. I was tempted to go say some things to the driver but there was a lot of mud to cross to get there.

So with a couple of cheerful beeps on the puny horn and a salute ( a real one, not the one-fingered kind ) I left the driver to their fate and continued on my ride. As far as I'm concerned the pot was right. Justice was served. An idiot got what was coming to them with no innocent victims involved. How often does that happen?

Right or wrong I felt good about it. Maybe I flunked my test. Maybe I'll pay a price down the road, Karma being what it is. It will be worth it. I rode home via a different route. Didn't want to spoil that perfect picture in my head. I'm still smiling!

Miles and smiles,


P.S. For Steve: I am a Warrior. Always have been and always will be. Trouble finds Warriors because they spend a lot of time on the battlefield and they're far from shy. We seldom back down. However, I shall, for your sake, try to find a HAPPY thing to post! It reminds of my favorite movie, Men In Black. Agent K ( Tommy Lee Jones ) has a device to wipe out a person's memory and then plants a new one to cover up the activity of the agency. Agent "J" ( Will Smith ) entreats K to use some compassion. Later K orders a fellow to give a medical examiner/coroner lady a new memory. J gives K a look. K amends his order to "Ok, make it a HAPPY memory."

I'll see what I can do, Agent "S"!


Unknown said...

That story had me grinning. I think I'd give my "thumbs up" to the idiot Hummer driver (assuming they could see it).

(www.fuh2.com) <--- describes how I feel about hummers.

Did it appear to have 4 wheel drive? I've yet to get my 4x4 Tacoma stuck but then again I don't drive it like a moron...I'd like to think I could have gotten my truck out of that spot. Take that hummer! More off-road capability with 1/3 the gas consumption!
-Dan Durham

Combatscoot said...

The Hummer is actually quite the piece of engineering. It was designed for a purpose, which didn't have anything to do with driving too fast on paved roads or harassing other road users with it's supposed superiority. Just like any other great piece of very capable equipment, the operator must know what he/she is doing. There's a reason the Army and Marines go to the field to play wargames, and part of it is to learn how to use their equipment to it's fullest advantage. Hummers don't really belong on the street.

Balisada said...

The road that you were on sounds like the one that had that really bad accident because the two cars were speeding along and one car made a sharp turn and the other could not and went into the river. I thought that the driver and her daughter died.

Of all the times that rude drivers have done really stupid things, I think that if something like that happened to me, I would not have the presence of mind to honk and wave jauntily with my puny little motorcycle horn.

The sad part about it, is that he probably didn't even realize that he was bothering you.

I find that when I am riding/driving at night, drivers will wait until the very last second to turn off their high beams. And I mean the VERY last second. The car is perhaps 50 feet away from me. Thanks guys, that helps a lot.

Oh well. When it happens, at least I have a story of an annoying H2 driver and a jaunty wave to make me smile.


Anonymous said...

Nate from Salt Lake City:

It's an accelerated culture. Even drivers on the way to a triple root canal are in a terrible, terrible hurry.

You may have a statistical basis for your contention that the levels of poor judgement on the road are increasing.

The bell-shaped curve of normal distribution will always put half of the active drivers on the left hand side - below average.

As the total number of drivers increase, the number of below average operators will increase.

And it's my intuition that higher and higher speeds distorts the curve, so that even more drivers wind up on that left side - the below average group.

What needed are more stringent requirements to get a driver's license (unlikely) - and a decrease in speed (against all current cultural norms).

Good call to just let him go by. The surge of adrenaline as he went by probably blinded him to that upcoming abrupt turn.

Anonymous said...

I say there IS Justice in the world, and not so much Karma. So I'd say you are okay. I'd have done the same thing. My tendency is to slow down a little when an idiot is following too close, not only is it easier for them to pass, it drives them NUTS, as well as making it easier to deal with whever is coming up that HE did not forsee. All in all, a good thing. :-)

irondad said...

I couldn't tell about the four wheel drive thing. Actually, I just assumed all of them had it. I love those commercials for the Toyota trucks!

I agree with you implicitly!

I remember that accident. The offending driver is a lawyer. For a long time there was one of those little roadside memorials.
People do seem to be self-absorbed and don't notice anything except what affects them.