Interstate Lifestyle

Just like John Goodman’s character Gail in Raising Arizona, I LOVE to drive. And nothing is better than opening it up on an interstate. Working through traffic, music cranked and the air conditioner blasting. This urge is either a deathwish or a need, as they say, for speed.

Maverick and Goose aside, it’s not that I drive reckless or chase ghosts of dead people to have a breakdown in the 3rd act I can triumphantly overcome in the finale. I just drive fast. There is one stretch of interstate in California, the I-5 from Grapevine to Patterson, cutting through the Central Valley that demands a particular style of 2 lane navigation.

In the passing lane, there are the zombies and people who think they are going fast at 75 mph, maybe pushing 80 or even 85. These people are fine. However, since the 5 is a two lane freeway, any vehicle can cause all kinds of mayhem when they decide to pass. A huge column of vehicles starts to stack in the fast lane. And this is where the driving gets pro.

The technique to successful I-5 navigation is to know when to blow by the fast lane at 90-100, then mash the brakes and slide into the passing lane. There are people who get angry at this kind of maneuver. They are the ones who will tend to race when you pass them, speeding up to match you, but once you push 105, they back off hard. And go back to 72 in the passing lane.

The most interesting, however is the culture and camaraderie that develops between drivers like myself. I will gladly mash the brakes and block for one of my road buddies to make the bastard move to pass the semi doing 68 mph. The driving buddy will shake her head at the same things you do. The driving buddy will throw hands up and talk to other drivers, just like you. And then, when you stop for gas, and the station is small, you will talk about the speed. Or maybe you’ll just do the Jr. High (note to younger readers: Jr. High = Middle School) head nod, perfected by daily use in the hall. The driving buddy might also attract another driving buddy, so you end up with a team. And the team is completely ad hoc. The team will rotate through leadership positions until someone gives up and floors it. Usually the first to defect from the team are the owners of Mercedes or BMWs. They are the ones who pull away from you at 95 with no problem.

Driving like this means you pass a lot of vehicles. And stopping for gas or food or stretching only means that you will pass them all again. But that is the game. The shifting, fractal nature of traffic patterns on the 5 make it so predictable and easy to make really good time. It’s long and straight and very few CHP vehicles.

I’m the one pissing you off when, at 87 mph, I slide into a space with 2 feet to spare, signaling and giving the hand wave, sans middle finger.