The Deep Lore of the Road
I was a middle-aged road warrior.
Once upon a time, before the world had gone mad,1 I was a road warrior.2 I took a new job in a new city far from home. Sadly, I did not get a cool spiky uniform.3 The move took place in pieces, with me moving down first. Family issues soon delayed the finalization, so for over a year I found myself driving several hundreds of miles twice per week up and down the East Coast of the United States, bouncing between work and home and putting serious mileage on both my car and my body.
At my two jobs before this, I similarly drove a lot, though much more modestly: instead of traversing half of this great nation’s coastline, I instead crisscrossed the Bay State. But still, given the well-known driving skills of my fellow Massachusettsans, I acquired the necessary driving survival skills that prepared me for the long-hauls I would soon be undertaking.
Thanks for reading. Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work. And drive safe.
Once, before all of this, I fell asleep at the wheel driving back from hanging out with a few friends. Like most men in their mid-20s, I scoffed at the idea that I was tired—who needs sleep? And like most men in their mid-20s, I almost died. No fooling! I started to hallucinate that the mud-flaps on the Pepsi truck in the lane to my right had blown off to float in the midnight breeze. “Pepsi,” I mused. “Is that, like ‘Is pep’ backwards? Like, ‘Pepsi is peppy’? Is that why they named it that?”
My thoughts were interrupted by the crunch of metal-on-metal. If you have ever heard this sound while driving, you know the sphincter-clenching fear that it creates. Snapping to alertness I took immediate stock and realized I was indeed still alive and still moving. So was the truck I had sideswiped. That was good.
The trucker blared their horn at me and pulled off at the next exit. I most certainly did not. Nope. Left alone on the now-empty highway, I booked it, eyes open as though I were strapped into the same torture machine as another Alex, and made my way home. The passenger side door of my car was damaged to the point that it was hard to yank open, so it could have been a lot worse. But I learned, then, that driving while tired was no joke.4
During my later travels, the closes I came to dying was getting stuck in a blizzard in central Pennsylvania at 2:30 a.m., but that’s a story for another day.
When any of us get behind the wheel, we’re gambling with our lives. You have a one-in-five-thousand chance (0.0002%) of dying in a car crash, as opposed to a one-in-eleven-million chance (0.00000009%) of dying in an airplane crash. As such, every driver, or every driver with a functioning brain and a soul that still retains a modicum of decency, follows certain unwritten rules so they can reach their ultimate destination without dying, or killing anybody else. This is why, ever since I got my driver’s license and especially since I started driving heavily, I have such an irrational reaction to dangerous drivers. It’s also why I have changed my thinking to see my seemingly disproportionate rage at these horrible drivers as actually the only rational response.
We see the phenomenon even when we’re not actively seeking it out . . .
It’s late. The highway is packed, an endless like of red taillights stretches out before you like a steadily lumbering gypsy caravan. Those crimson pinpoints undulate like seaweed buffeted by undersea currents as they meander down the road, moving in time to an unseen conductor’s hand. A school of fish would be so lucky to move with such disciplined grace . . .
People know. They know somewhere in their core that when we drive, we’re all in this together. The danger posed by thousands of two-ton death machines isn’t lost on even the simplest of minds. You can’t get there from here if your w trials are twisted around the flaming wreckage of an engine block. We flirt with death every time we drive, or at least pass through Kelley Square in Worcester, Massachusetts.5
I have a love-hate relationship with the automobile. I love the freedom they provide. I love the personal nature of cars. I love that I am not at the mercy of a bus or a subway or a passenger train. But I hate what cars have done to the landscape. Our cities and towns are unwalkable and unlivable unless you have a motor vehicle. You can’t just walk most places. Distances are so great. Workplaces have gotten pushed further and further out, resulting in the phenomenon of the long-distance commuter who spends a days’ worth of time per week traveling to and from their job. Modern roadways are ugly, and the cut great scars through our natural landscape and our cities.6 Towns, at least where I live, tend to be just a main strip where one of the main state routes runs through, surrounded by gas stations, convenience stores, and fast food joints, no town common, no center. All must bow to the almighty horseless carriage.
It’s a circle I cannot square.
I am, however, a realist. Despite the best efforts of the eco-nuts who seem to care less about the environment and more about punishing people they hate politically, cars are here to stay for the foreseeable future.7 Me, a partial Luddite, saying this should mean something. And as long as I’m driving, I want my chances of survival to approach airplane-levels, and you should too.
It’s why unwritten codes exist, in driving and in everything. If we tried to enumerate all of this stuff, we’d go mad. Sometimes you just have to feel, listen, observe, learn.
The deep lore of America’s roadways is but one example of these things. Everybody knows you can’t quite trust someone’s blinker, but you should still use them.8 Everybody knows you shouldn’t ride someone’s vehicular ass.9 You drive slowly in parking lots. You let people merge. And so on.
However, things like this require a modicum of social trust. If you see the drivers of other cars as actual human beings, you will drive safer. Otherwise, they’re no different than statistics on a government spreadsheet or someone on the other side of a smartphone screen.
Good driving also requires intelligence10 and self-control. Some statistics, if you believe them, say that drivers have gotten worse. I haven’t kept detailed notes during my 26 years as a driver, but sure, it feels like my fellow road warriors have gotten worse. Maybe I have too. Maybe the degradation of driving acumen is just another sign of our long, slow national decline. It used to be putting on makeup and listening to music while driving was the killer. Now it’s texting.
Don’t even get me started on drunk driving. Cars and other heavy machinery have made alcohol an even deadlier substance than ever. Did you ever hear about the dangers of drunk horseback riding? Me neither. The automobile has unleashed horrors beyond our comprehension. Now that weed is increasingly legal, we’re going to be dealing with stoned drivers too.11 Just kill me now.12
Or don’t, actually. If I’m going to have to be driving regularly for the rest of my life, I’d rather not die thanks to your stupid driving, thanks.
I am completely justified in spewing invective at the moron who treats a yield sign like a signal to speed up, stop signs as optional, and the busy highway as a personal racetrack. To the people who drift into my lane without warning? You should face severe corporal punishment. Drink drivers deserve
the death penalty to lose their right to operate anything more complicated than an Atari 260013 forever. You are scum, end of story. If you do things that put my life or the life of my family in danger on the road, I hate you . . . as a driver. You need to follow the code, man! Everybody gets off the road alive.
Psych! The world has always been mad.
According to my lazy man’s research, a road warrior is someone who travels, often as a part of their job, and does work at the same time. For those of you who like to scream out “Source? Source?”, just Google it, man . . .
This has a cute name, “drowsy driving,” that I don’t like, but over 600 Americans die due to this, which is not cute at all. Souce: https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving
If you know, you know.
The areas near where a freeway divides a city often have high crime, low property values, and are just plain gross.
Yes, we could theoretically all die in a nuclear war, some new disruptive technology could emerge, the Second Coming could happen tomorrow, I get it. Just roll with me here.
I might be a current Massachusettsan, but I grew up and learned to drive in New Hampshire.
This is one of those things everybody hates, yet some people still do.
One time my friend at work, who also hates other drivers, told me he thinks there should be an IQ requirement to get a license. “What’s the cutoff?” I asked. “I dunno, 100, 115?” he replied. “Man, there’d be barely anyone on the road.” His response: “Sounds like fuckin’ paradise.” I agree (presuming I make the cutoff).
Nobody lives in more denial than potheads. I’ve had people tell me with a straight, albeit droopy-eyed, face that being high actually makes you a better driver. The reason? “Trust me, bro.”
Honestly, the numbers on this aren’t as well-studied—see https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/12/well/live/driving-while-high-marijuana.html—but give it time.
Even this might be too complicated for some.