Monday, April 24, 2006

The New Rules of Driving

I'm sorry if you're following me. But I'm in the slow lane. I'm not going to speed up, so you might as well pass me.

I'm not going to speed up, unless it looks like I might miss the next traffic light. Then I'm going to floor it - but gingerly, gradually, because I don't want to wake my passenger.

That's the thing. Oliver's in the back seat. Asleep. His head is slumped down, his chin in his chest, his lower lip moving softly with every breath. And so I'm going to do everything I can to keep him asleep. That means I'm not going to stop this car for the next hour. At all. So you probably better just go around me, because this won't be much fun for you otherwise.

Why is he asleep? Sometimes he just conks out on the way back from a distant location. Sometimes, I'll admit, I know he's been awake for three hours and he'll fall asleep on the way home, and I take him out anyway because I want him to sleep in the car. Naps get tiring for me, and sometimes I'll admit I need a break. I want him to sleep without me having to bounce him for fifteen minutes, without the sudden wakeups after thirty minutes. So we drive around town.

If you're behind me, you should be warned that I'm going to coast through stop signs. Oh, sure, it'll look like I stopped, but if you study it closely - if you videotape the intersection and then play it back in slo-mo - you'd realize that I merely downshifted to first gear, and slowed down to a near-stop. I paused, just long enough for the momentum of the car to shift slightly, almost imperceptibly, and then we're off again. The car never stopped. The baby's still asleep.

Stop lights are, of course, a particular hazard, but I've figured out the secret. I watch the walk signals. If I see the walking man, then we're in the clear - I can proceed at a normal rate of speed. Unless we're too far away. Then, I'm going to lean on the gas, just a bit. And possibly switch lanes, if I need it. I will not miss that light.

And if I see red on the crosswalk sign, watch out. I'm going to gun it. Not shift gears. I'll just gently rev it up until we're going fast enough to make the light. If it's yellow, I'm not going to stop. And if it turns red just when I'm going under ... well, I'm just going to have to explain it to the cop while my kid screams in the back seat.

If, god forbid. we actually hit a red light, I'm not going to stop. I'm not going to go through it, mind you - that would be dangerous. But I'm going to do everything in my power to keep the car from actually coming to a complete stop. So I'll downshift gently, one gear at a time, slowing down very gradually - the trick here is change speed so slowly as to make the word "gradually" seem like reckless abandon. A bit more. Just a bit more. Now we're in first gear, and I'm coming up on the car ahead of me. So now I'm going to take the car out of gear, and coast in neutral at microspeed. We're still moving, but at a snail's pace. Rolling. We're drifting toward the other car now, breathtakingly slow, but we're still moving. A second more - only a few feet more before the car ahead of me forces me to hit the brakes. Come on. Just a second more.

And ... the light turns green.

As the car ahead of me accelerates, I slip the car back into first gear and tap the gas. And we're moving again. Never stopped. See how nicely that worked?

So if you're behind me, I'm going to look like a driver grappling with indecision. Speed up. Slow down. Switch lanes, then switch back. Creepy-crawl up behind other cars at intersections. I'm constantly watching fifteen blocks ahead of me, and my eyes are also constantly scanning my rearview mirror, in which I can see his rearview mirror, the one that faces him in the backseat. I watch his face for any sign of motion, the slightest blink of an eye, the slightest grimace. I'm constantly looking backwards and forwards while driving. It's tricky, but I've gotten used to it.

You really should just get around me. I'm just driving around and around in a giant circle, up and around Alki Point, down 35th, down around the ferry dock. I'm not actually going anywhere, unlike you. So you'll probably get impatient, and maybe you'll want to lean on your horn a little. (Please don't.) Just go around. Because I'm going to be driving like this for as long as I have to, as long as that little boy's asleep in my back seat.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Ha! Mrs. Perils used to do that with our kid in our '73 Gremlin; or, she'd run the kid in a stroller around Greenlake, cuz he wouldn't nap unless he was in motion. Good luck, Mr. Blue!