I have just completed a 2 day drive from Austin to Phoenix, and survived. Truthfully, I don’t think the question was ever, “Will I survive this trip,” but rather, “Will my cat survive this trip?” Thankfully, Gus seems to have arrived in Phoenix sane and healthy. He didn’t escape, he didn’t get indigestion from the change in water, and he doesn’t seem to be horribly traumatized from spending two days in a cat carrier. He’s settled in to life at home nicely and life for him is more or less back to normal. I, however, am still recovering from the unique frustration of driving long distances.
It’s amazing the sorts of things that bother you when you’re behind the wheel of a car. There’s something about cars that tend to turn humans into raving axe murderers. The summer after my freshman year of college, I worked in a small repertory theatre in Maine and one of my many jobs was to show cars where to park in the tiny, un-lined parking lot. This was an eye-opening experience (to put it politely). I even learned a few curses I’d never heard before. Once patrons got out of their cars, they were lovely people, but behind the wheel they were all rabid lunatics.
The same can be true of people driving on highways for long stretches, particularly in the Southwest where you can go for hours and feel like you haven’t moved. The scenery doesn’t change much, and after a few hundred miles, one cactus looks very much like another cactus. You can set the cruise control to 80 and just drive. It causes a certain zombie-like tunnel vision. Anything that disrupts this rhythm becomes the enemy, turning normal human beings into horn-blasting, wheel-screeching psychopaths.
Nothing causes this transformation from reasonable person to asylum inmate more efficiently than a tractor trailer. No matter what your speed is, tractor trailers seem constantly to drive 15 miles below it. If you’re going 80, they’re gong 65. If you’re going 45, they’re going 30. It doesn’t make much sense. Surely there’s a point at which everyone can drive at the same speed? The really infuriating thing, however, is that these gigantic trucks constantly feel the need to pass each other. It invariably only happens on two-lane highways where you can’t possibly get around the incredibly slow trucks driving side-by-side because really they’re both going 65 (even though the speed limit is 75) but one decided the best way to compensate for his feelings of inadequacy by passing the other. The major problem here is that it requires you, the innocent bystander, to slow down, possibly even (horror of horrors) reset your cruise control at 60 for 20 miles while you wait for the truck in the left lane to finally decide he has enough room to pull in front of the truck in the right lane.
On this particular trip, the problem was compounded by The Construction From Hell. Every 85 miles or so, like clockwork, there would be “construction.” This means that all the cars on the highway have to funnel into one lane and reduce their speed to 35 for about 2 hours so that four guys can stand in front of an idle backhoe wearing ugly hats and drinking coffee like they’re in some lame college frat. These are arranged by some diabolical power to occur about 10 minutes after two trucks have completed the 2-lane pass, giving you just enough time to get back up to 80 so that you can slow down again. It’s infuriating.
I seem to have survived the ordeal just in time to fly to Merida, Venezuela for a 3-week trip (which will no doubt be the subject of its own blog entry at a later date), and that really is swapping one frustration for another. I suppose it’s the destination that really matters, though, and in both cases, the destination is well worth the inevitable frustration of getting there.
To those of you who are traveling, be safe, be happy, and if you can't enjoy the journey, enjoy the destination.