Epiphanies often hit you square in the kisser. At other times they ease their way into your existence gently, without much fanfare at all, kind of like the gradual change of season’s summer to fall.
One of my more recent life changes has settled in sans any momentous announcement and whether it can be classified as a bona fide epiphany or not isn’t a question I care to ponder. I happen to be quite content with the result. After 36 years behind the wheel (dozens of wheels with the only common variable being their shape) I suddenly find myself driving differently. It took over three decades to make the switch, but it’s happened and there’s no turning back or more to the point “putting it in reverse.”
Gone is the aggressive heavy-footed guy who passed and weaved and dodged to get to an onramp ten seconds earlier than the other schnook. The old me was the one leaning forward in the driver’s seat, like so many others on our pothole ridden roads, prepping for the worst, armed and ready for vehicular battle with every other competitive driver. When one traverses these Massachusetts roads, one cannot help but become hardened. The most important hand signal involves either A. a rounded fist or B. the infamous middle finger so recognizable by so many.
Racing for a parking space, honking incessantly behind a driver who isn’t flooring it as the light turns green, flashing the high beams at anyone nervy enough to be doing just the speed limit in my lane — that was me. And I stress the word “was.”
Now nothing traumatic shocked me into driving with less intensity. Thankfully no serious accidents or even any close calls. It just seems natural to ease off the pedal and relax a bit.
My highway driving is now finally right. Not just correct in that I’m doing the speed limit and leaving other drivers alone; it’s actually right, as in most of the time I find myself cruising the right lane. It’s much more comfortable to join the flow of traffic in the right lane where everything and everyone tends to be less frantic. No one cutting me off, flashing their lights at me. Just a smooth drive that saves a bit of gas and might actually cost me an extra five minutes on the commute. No big deal.
I’m also the guy who gives way. I was occasionally generous in the old days to a driver who needed a break to merge into my lane. Now, I find it more desirable to extend a hand to others, inviting them in. Not more than one or two at a time mind you, I’m not crazy. But a little courtesy goes a long way. It’s also interesting to note how many concerned looking commuters loosen up and wave back. There is a residual positive effect that my new driving style seems to be having on others.
With my new habit behind the wheel, there’s more time for thought, planning and reflection on the day that’s passing or the one ahead. I lean back in the captain’s chair, not forever taxing my expensive machine to get me there any faster. This may sound nutty, but I equate it to riding a horse. A true horse lover will always tell you that in order to truly enjoy the experience you should develop a close bond with the horse, working together as one. I have a better feeling for my car. I am beginning to think that in its own way, my car appreciates the fact that I’m not running it into the ground, like so many of its predecessors.
And just for the record, I’m not tooling around in a Smart Car or VW Bug. I own a powerful SUV that can look pretty imposing with its shiny black exterior that when fresh out of the car wash is the closest thing you’ll see to Secret Service Government Issue. All that power under the hood and the new me is satisfied with this new method of lighter travel. Easy does it, what’s the rush? I’ll get where I’m going and be less stressed. A novel concept.
Do I still retain the skills as well as the license to fire up my warp engines and get myself out of a tight squeeze? This is still Massachusetts. You bet I do. But for the most part, I’m the guy in the far right lane going the limit with something a lot of other drivers don’t see very often. A smile.