Friday, October 18, 2002

I think I have finally figured it out. It took hundreds of miles, countless gallons of gas, and more money than I knew I had… but I’ve GOT IT!

You see, we Homo sapiens like to categorize things… especially people. Life works better for us if we have a handle on each other. Let’s see. There are African-Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, Jews, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, Yankees, Rebels, Catholics, Protestants, athletes, couch potato’s, soldiers, men, women, teenagers, adults, Cub fans, and everybody else. Categories. Hundreds and thousands of categories. And all of them are dead WRONG. Totally illegitimate. Vain efforts to understand the nearly un-understandable.

There are only two legitimate categories to put people in. Yep. Two. The light came on in my brain last Monday as I was driving home from Minneapolis. Debbie and I had spent the night in De Forest, Wisconsin. Our hotel was right across the street from “The Cheese Chalet.” This is a landmark location in my life. Over the years I have consumed more cheese from The Cheese Chalet than all of the vast hordes of invading mice in my laundry room have ever dreamed of. Swiss Cheese, American cheese, Colby-Jack Cheese, Smoked Cheddar Cheese, and now the squeaky Cheese Curds. This is the wonderful stuff scraped right from the tip of the cheese when it floats up during the cheese making process. It is the cheesiest cheese of all. It is so cheesy that it squeaks against your teeth when you eat it. I bought the white Cheese Curds. They had yellow Cheese Curds but us cheese experts know that ALL cheese is really white. They just add the yellow coloring to trick you. I don’t like to be tricked. Who knows what they put in that stuff to make it yellow. Think about it. No! Don’t! Just trust me and buy the white Cheese Curds. You’ll be better off.

Where was I? Oh yeah. I was driving home. It was chilly so the top was up on the Sebring. Somebody or other was singing about Jesus on the stereo. That’s a rule in our cars. Somebody always has to be singing about Jesus. It isn’t that we would forget about Him or something if nobody sang. It’s just that one day I realized the ramifications of hurtling down a concrete ribbon at 75mph in a thin steel cocoon with other thin steel cocoon’s hurtling AT you doing approximately the same speed. At that point singing about Jesus seemed appropriate. The cruise control was on and we were talking about things that married people talk about when they still love each other after 25 years. Suddenly, taillights appeared up ahead. I kicked off the cruise and coasted up behind the car that had previously been at the end of the line. That job was now mine. I was the default anchor man. I was not too happy to have the position. Fortunately, it did not last long as some poor soul stopped behind me… and then somebody behind him… and then somebody behind him… and then somebody behind him… you get the idea.

At some point it occurred to us that it really was nice out and if we were not going to have to deal with a 70+mph wind chill factor we might as well pop to top on the car. Down it went. We sat for awhile. Didn’t move an inch. Then we would slowly glide forward for a few yards only to stop again. That brings up an interesting question. When everybody has been stopped for 10 minutes… and then you all move forward 15 feet… where did those 15 feet come from? Did a car suddenly evaporate? Was the stress too much for someone and they drove off into the ditch? Are there people out there with propellers in their cars causing them to double as helicopters and they just aren’t telling the rest of us? Why 15 available feet all of the sudden?

So anyway, there we are, stopped dead still on I-94 southbound just below Madison. Suddenly the left lane begins to move. Naturally I am in the right lane. They are soon cruising along at about 8mph which looks supersonic when you’ve been in “park” for 10 minutes. Then we begin to move too. We get up to 3mph. Suddenly big orange signs appear ahead of us. These signs say what we hoped they would say. They said, “Road Construction Ahead.” We hoped they would say that because, even though that means the construction is still at least a mile away, at least we won’t have to look at sheets covering somebody’s cold carcass fresh from 150mph (closing speed) head on collision. Come to think of it you could probably use a handkerchief for that. The next sign one mile and 20 minutes later said, “Left lane closed ½ mile.) Is this good or is this bad? I’m not sure. It means that we are not the “merger’s” but the “mergee’s.”

And then it happens. Most cars in the left lane immediately put on their right turn signal and wait for a decent human being that will allow them to enter out lane. Most of us do so willingly. You know, “Do unto others” and all of that. But as the left lane begins to empty out something become compellingly obvious. There are a few cars that have no desire to merge. They wait until the mergers are all gone and then they stomp on the gas and fly ahead of all of us, rushing up to the place where they finally have no choice but to slide into our lane. And some guy way up there ALWAYS lets him in. Now I don’t know about you, but I think I am mad at two people here. I am mad at the guy that took advantage of the situation and jetted ahead of me, and I’m mad at the guy that whimped out and let him in our line. What’s the deal with that?

And then some trucker finally takes matters into his own hands. He’s a right lane trucker. He’s seen what’s going on. He’s had enough of it. And so this courageous right lane trucker stands up for all of us little right lane car drivers. He eases his big rig over into the left lane and blocks the steady stream of out-law line cutters. I suspect that he has organized this feat with his truck driving brothers via CB radio. In my rented convertible I stand up and applaud him! He is my latest hero! He has stemmed the tied of this hideous highway criminal element. Only a truck driver can get away with this. He’s up too high to make obscene gestures at. He has too many truck driver buddies to shoot at him. And chances are very good that the weapon he is packing is bigger and more broken-in than yours. So he cuts off the bad guys and once again peace reigns on the nations highways. Thank God for the teamsters!

But here is what it all means. Forget black and white, male and female, protestant and catholic. There are only two categories of human beings in this land we call America in this season we call “construction ahead.” There are those of us who merge to the right and wait out turn … and there are those that blast ahead and try to cheat us and take advantage of our gullible kindness. These people are not nice. But they are also your neighbors. They share a pew with you on Sunday at church. They work in your office. You invite their children to your children’s birthday parties. In other words they have infiltrated our ranks. And I am none to happy about it.

So what do we do? This scourge upon the face of our national highway system must stop! Well, I have had nearly a week to think about this event. It is fortunate for you that I have noticed this trend and that I have directed my brain cells toward formulating a fix for this situation. However… it is possible… improbable, but possible… that you have a better plan than I do. So I am not going to tell you what my plan is just yet. Instead I am going to invite you to send me your plans… your thoughts… maybe just vent your anger in a positive way… by email instead of Road Rage. My email address, set up specifically for this purpose is I’m out here for you, America. Don’t keep me waiting. You don’t even want to think about what would happen if I became a left-lane-driver…