Saturday, August 28, 2010

My way, the highway

One of the 5C's that are the aspirations of the yuppies is Car, or automobile as it is better known here. Not for its utility value though, but as a status symbol. However, for the majority of us who works 9 to 5, car is a necessity of sort, at least in a city like Tampa, not large enough to support its own Mass Rail Transit; and sufficiently sprawling for the other public transport modes to be stretched to their limits. Car ownership is also encouraged by its relatively low price, and further egged on by the similarly low-priced gasoline.

Driving in US in general is facilitated by the well laid-out road network, practically reaching every nook and corner. Public free car-parks are aplenty (except the downtown which we avoid), so is road courtesy bountiful, making it a real pleasure to drive on the road. At the same time, there is no log jam that afflicts big cities, other than the frequent crawls during rush hours and the occasional grid-lock during heaving downpour. But you learn to avoid these foreseeable trouble spots, and plan your trip around them.

I used to be the only driver in our family, faithfully ferrying anyone who needed a ride. Then CY got her driver license and car, but she is too far away to cause any dent on my driving load. Then this summer, it was WT's turn. And he got through on his second try, though the abortive first attempt was not exactly his fault.

Here's what I gathered from WT and the tester after the fact as we were waiting in the office. WT had just gone around the carpark next to the RMV office, with the tester on his side. Then while he was planning to move out of the carpark for the road test, a truck came out of nowhere and cut him off, missing him by half a foot (based on the distance between the tester's two open palms when he was relating to us the circumstances of WT's failing grade back in the office). The tester actually had to ask WT to stop the car to avoid a clash; and that was enough ground for failing the road test. But he assured me that WT definitely had the right of way. However, he does need to be more observant, which is the essence of defensive driving. Having the right of way does not mean accidents will not happen as we have no control over how others will behave on the road. The next day, we received the thumb up sign from another tester who administered the road test. Now I have somebody to share my driving duty.

However, before WT can measure up to that onerous task, he needed to develop his driving repertoire further, which includes being highway-worthy, driving-wise. So both of us drove in tandem to Gainesville last weekend. We debated whether he should lead or not. The pros: he could drive at his own pace. The cons: he might not be able to react if the front driver behaves erratically. With me in front, at least he knows I will have him on my rear mirror at all times. As for the pros, I have driven long enough, including many times as the lead car, to know how to maintain a pace that is comfortable to those who follow as well as making sure the distance between us is safe. So it was no contest at all: I had to lead.

So for the next 120 miles or so, most of them on Interstate 75, we hogged the inner lane, keeping at a constant speed of 60-65 mph, i.e., a notch under the posted speed limit. Well, frankly, I had never been overtaken by so many cars in one trip. But I persevered, looking more frequently at my rear mirror than through the front wind screen.

Yes, that's what we did, dutifully, though not to Tijuana Flats.

We stopped at the first rest area without any incident, thinking that it might do a lot of good to WT's jitters after his maiden drive on the Interstate for about 40miles. If he had any, he didn't show. Just cool and calm.

At the first rest area. Mr. Cool and Calm with his even cooler Mom, spotting the large wrap-around of a pair of sun-glasses.

After finding nothing was amiss, we rejoined the interstate, but not before telling WT to watch out for traffic joining the Interstate from the right since we were on the inner lane. “If the car is slightly ahead, slow down and let him merge,” I instructed.

We decided to skip the second rest area coming up at about the half-way point and continued. The next test was when the northbound Interstate that we were on joins the Florida Turnpike from Miami where we came in from the left. If we were to stay in the inner lane as planned, we needed to navigate across three lanes. Fortunately, there was a break in the traffic flow from Miami and we were able to do that with no car to our right.

When we were approaching the third and last rest area, which is practically just out-of-town from Gainesville, I was preparing to only stop at our destination when I caught something in my rear mirror. WT's car suddenly veered off to the roadside and then it was steered back, but luckily no over-steering, which many novice drivers are prone to do. I tell you, my heart just got a jolt. And I slowed down and led him to the rest area not far ahead, speculating that perhaps he almost feel asleep at the wheels, which could be the result of the initial adrenaline rush and sustained intensity during the drive.

When confronted, he nonchalantly attributed that to trying to adjust the radio dial. I told him in no uncertain terms, don't ever do that again. Even for experienced driver like me who can at least keep one eye on the road, it's also a No-No. A car moving at 60mph is moving at about 27m a second. That is, in a split second, the car has already moved ahead by 20 some meters, more than enough to end up in the road-side ditch, and worse still, smash into the front car if the front driver decides to slow down.

Once I had a burst front tire when it grated the road-side curb while I was adjusting my rear-view mirror. And the bursting motion propelled the wheel hub cover into the air, across a fence, and landed in the lawn behind it, rather harmlessly. Though I was able to control the car, now wobbling along with one wheel on the flat, it was a frightful experience. So many things could have gone wrong. I could have careened toward an on-coming car, the flung hub could have hit somebody …

So WT make it through his first maiden trek on the Interstate. I'm sure he will have many many more of that now that he has his own car. And I hope he will remember what he learned on this very first trip of his. Yes, remind me to tell him about the burst tire episode.

Actually, this was taken today, the different dresses obviously a giveaway. Yes, we drove to Gainesville again and had lunch with WT at Merlion, which serves a nice vegan menu.

1 comment:

Lee Wei Joo said...

Great driving account. Cheers brother on your experience!