Sunday, August 1, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: Rolling Down the Highway

I took U.S. Highway 281 up to Gault yesterday. It's shorter to go via IH 35, but driving through Austin, Parking Lot of the Hills, during rush hour (about 3-7 PM on Fridays) cancels out that benefit. Plus, on 281, so far, no outlet malls; though it is surely only a matter of time. US 281 between San Antonio and Burnet is the stretch of road where I hit my stride as a long-distance driver, as opposed to passenger, and found what pleasure may be derived from blasting past pleasant scenery without having leisure to look at it. I advise stocking lots of 70s pop/rock in your music system, especially southern bands. They nail the necessary relaxed, yet urgent, rhythms.

What this means is that on 281 I am sharing the road with two kinds of people - locals, and folks in a hurry to get from Point A to Point B. I haven't been driving long in the grand scheme of things, but I've been a long-distance passenger my whole life, and I have good rural driving manners. I strive to stay within 5 mph of the speed limit. I pass slower traffic with plenty of room, and if not passing I keep to the right. On a two-lane highway with a shoulder, if someone comes up behind who is going faster than me, I drive on the shoulder till he can get by me; when tractors, trailers, or pony carts do that for me I wave at them.

One particular stretch of 281 has no shoulders and is too hilly to allow using the oncoming lane for passing very often. The climbing lanes on the steeper hills are the only good opportunities. Which is why it was so disturbing to encounter so many drivers who tore along at a steady rate sufficiently above the speed limit that by the time I saw them I barely had time to get out of their way (and I was having a hard time keeping it down to a legal 70 most of the way). On one occasion, when I was wondering just as I reached the climbing lane why the person hauling the extra-wide trailer who was holding me at 60 wasn't getting over so I could get past him, we were both passed on the right by someone I hadn't seen coming, who almost had to have gone off the pavement in preference to slowing down. Some of the people doing this were hauling things; most were in silver or pale blue SUVs.

This sort of behavior is so stupid, so dangerous, and so obnoxious that it's hard to imagine a motive for it; but that's a challenge, and it's a really long drive even with the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Lynryd Skynyrd working with you. I wrote the lesbian western in my head a lot of the way, but I needed variety and a garage sale idea, so I kept going back to the speed demons in the SUVs. Sometimes in rural areas you get speed demons in pickups, locals who know the roads and the cops, often teen-agers blowing off stored energy; but these shiny SUVs said "new subdivision" to me. I imagined bored newly-legal teens with too much vehicle and too little direction, in a hurry to get to Austin on a Friday night, assuming that their reflexes were up to handling any challenge.

And then I thought of those street racing movies I see trailers for sometimes. They are very much not my kind of thing - the generic title my husband gives them is Bored in 60 Seconds - but as far as I can tell there's usually some kind of rivalry and a heterosexual "love" story based on who can get away with driving the stupidest and endangering the most innocent bystanders and cops. Someone who liked that kind of movie could write a kick-ass parody (parodies should always be written from deep and abiding love) set on US 281.

The ideal thing, I think, would be a storyline with rival subcultures of reckless drivers, the Rednecks and the New Money. There's got to be a better term for the New Money - what do Rednecks call these people? Yuppies is such an 80s term. The Redneck cars don't look like much, but they are supported by loving, skilled shade tree mechanics who can pull off absurd feats of mechanical legerdemain under the battered old hoods. They know the terrain and they are not about to let a bunch of interlopers from those ugly houses on what used to be Old Man Hosmer's place and is now Designer Oaks Subdivision take over their roads. The New Money have neither taste nor sense, but they do have rampant senses of entitlement and trust fund money. You could throw in a Romeo-and-Juliet storyline with a Redneck girl and a New Money boy courting each other by one-upping each other's vehicular upgrades. You could probably do a really funny scene with a jet engine in a John Deere. Dan Ackroyd could play the sheriff.

If I wrote this it would turn nasty. I've come a long way since I learned to drive five years ago, but I'm constantly aware that every time I get on the road I'm sitting on a deadly weapon. Every time I return from a trip without killing anybody I feel triumphant. So people who treat them as toys, or who get on the road and act as though they are the only ones on it who matter, make me angry. I scowl after them and imagine that they condemn immigrants for not waiting 20 years to get a legal visa but would themselves rather risk the lives of everyone around them and break state and federal laws rather than take ten minutes rather than five getting to town. I want to put a sign in lights on Moby's bumper that says "Excuse me for going the speed limit." (A bumper sticker won't do; the target audience is going too fast to notice bumper stickers.) When I watch a movie with a car chase in it I am worried about the people in the overturned and smashed-up cars and bored by the choreography of the chase. It took me 20 years to understand the car chase parodies in The Blues Brothers, and I still enjoy them less than anything else in the movie.

But other people obviously like this stuff, so one of them can have this notion cheap.

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