Free-Floating Hostility

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Like Steve McQueen

This whole driving thing has been such a disaster. It was just as I'd feared: I've opened the floodgates and now I can't seem to stop myself from driving into Berkeley every time I don't feel like fitting my schedule to Amtrak's. Obviously, I suck, but I have to admit it. I like driving.

No one is more shocked than I. Until recently I identified more strongly with Sheryl's post on 34 about accidentally winding up on the freeway than I did with, say, Howards End. But once I had driven into Berkeley the first time, I realized that I could do it and that it wasn't very scary. Then the second time I made the trip in 58 minutes, which was terrible news because every time after that I've felt the impulse to speed because what if I could make that time again? I confided all this to Jeff, who was horrified. "Don't speed!" he implored me, "It's not safe." "I have to go with the flow of traffic," I equivocated, "Going slow isn't safe either." "Cars are not safe!" he reminded me reproachfully.

My dad, notably, has no such protective instinct. "So, my daughter's a speed demon, ay?" he said, obviously beaming with pride. "Nah, Dad, I just like to hover around a nice comfortable 75 on the freeway," I said. "Well, there's nothing wrong with that," he assured me with the telephonic equivalent of a thump on the shoulders, "Your mother likes to go a nice comfortable 55 on the freeway." The problem is, it's no longer true. On an open, straight road I prefer to go around 80. I'll go 75 if that's how fast the person ahead of me in the left-hand lane is going, but if there isn't a big string of cars ahead of that person I will, if possible, pass. If passing is impossible I will most likely curse involuntarily at the next driver, who might be a retired art therapist or a family court judge, in a combination of English invective and Sicilian gesturing. The worst, obviously, are drivers who change into my lane without my permission. "Nice driving you fucknut!" I heard myself screaming at such a person on Thursday, seemingly against my will. It's terrible. I've become one of those people who need a protective metal-and-glass bubble between them and their fellow commuters just to prevent the collapse of the social contract. I've become Californian.

The other day as I was driving home I noticed I was running low on gas, so I pulled in just before Fairfield to an Arco station that looked like a jelly bean in an anthill. Cars were pointed every which way around the pumps with no perceptible system for ranking whose turn was next, such as a line. Probably because they were selling gas for $3.07, which passes for a bargain around here--I have chosen the worst possible time to start driving. There were four pumps that in theory I could pull up next to and have the gas door on the correct side, but three of them were occupied by cars pointing the other direction. The fourth was technically free, but was practically blocked by cars using other pumps. My New York sensibilities reviving for a moment, I decided to shove my way in between them. I started to pull in and instantly realized why nobody else had adopted this plan. It was impossible to fit a car in that space. I started cursing again, but then a tattooed and grease-covered passenger in a baseball cap alit from one of the other cars to wave me through, and by gum I made it. "I appreciate it," I called to him, "Thanks." "Looks like you've done that before," he said approvingly. I had, of course, since our apartment has the least reasonable parking system I have ever seen. But hell if I didn't sing all the way home with pride at the stranger's feedback.

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