My life in the slow lane

When no one else is on the road, here’s why I delight in going 35 miles per hour.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Traffic passes a construction zone at the interchange of U.S. Highway 65 and Interstate 80 in Altoona, Iowa.

There are moments in life when you’re in the middle of some activity and think, “I love doing this. Love it!” Maybe it happens on the golf course, or camping, or when you’re having dinner at a favorite restaurant. There are so many things to love about modern life.

I’m in love with 35 miles per hour.

It’s a difficult kind of love to talk about in this era of TV commercials and big-budget movies that constantly promote and glorify images of supercharged vehicles with roaring engines and smoking tires thundering across city streets in endless pursuit of high-octane adventure.

My personality has never had a fast-and-furious side. This aversion to speed began early: I learned to ski during elementary school, and while everyone around me was schussing and swooping downhill, I got really good at traveling along in short segments of about one or two hundred feet, then pulling off to a secluded spot where I could rest, survey the surrounding terrain, and plan the next portion of my methodical, low-risk descent. 

I vividly recall going to Disneyland as a young teenager and being emotionally thrashed on the Matterhorn bobsled ride. Other kids were howling with delight at the sharp turns and steep drops while I was mentally repeating the phrases “Please be over soon” and “I don’t want to die.”

In high school, I thoroughly enjoyed driver’s education class because of the no-need-to-hurry approach the instructors emphasized. The day my ride-along teacher said, “OK, I think we’re ready for the expressway” wasn’t an occasion for any internal celebration.

Do not, however, assume I spend most of my road time cowering behind the steering wheel. Freeway fright is not my copilot. After 45-plus years on the road, I can handle a vast range of traffic tribulations. I’ve had my share of white knuckles and sweaty palms but not one accident since a fender bender in college. I go with the flow, and if the flow is doing 65 or 70 m.p.h. in bumper-to-bumper formation, well, as Tim Gunn likes to say on “Project Runway,” “Make it work!”

But in solitary situations, alone on some suburban boulevard or country lane, I like to ease off the gas pedal, settle in at a steady 35 m.p.h., and achieve an authentic state of cruising nirvana. 

It’s a speed that allows me to appreciate my surroundings because the scenery doesn’t flash by in a blur. There’s also a significant safety factor because slowing down means I have more time to react and avoid potholes, bouncing balls, bull elk, or other hazards that may appear unexpectedly.

This is my way of pushing back against the relentlessly increasing pace of our high-intensity, on-demand society. 

Think of it as the automotive equivalent of a trail ride. When you saddle up for an equestrian excursion, you don’t race across the countryside at a full gallop. It’s much nicer to mosey along and find pleasure in the journey.

Let me be clear about one crucial point: I would never, ever try to impose my personal commitment to mild motoring on anyone else. 

I’m careful to pursue it only in private moments so as not to anger or annoy other motorists. They do their thing; I do my thing (when conditions permit). 

“You’re the only person I know,” one friend said, “who waits until no one else is around so you can drive below the speed limit.” Is it possible I’m the only person in America with this particular passion? All I can say in response is that we humans often do strange things for love, and my emotions aren’t likely to change. 

When I’m in the driver’s seat, with nothing but wide-open blacktop in both directions, 35 m.p.h. is the velocity of Cupid’s arrow.

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