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The trip to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, from Ossining, New York, is estimated by Google maps at 108 miles, one way, and about 2½ hours in duration. When my wife and I drove it this summer to attend my friend Warren’s son’s wedding, it took us about 30-40 minutes longer than the estimate. The reason for that was that I tried to travel at least five miles below the speed limit on every road and at 45 miles per hour on The Toyota Corolla at I-287 and I-84. Let me assure you, from the the Wedding in start, that the idea to travel at a 45 miles per Honesdale, PA, 2008. hour on the interstate did not work. Even at 55 (the new upper limit I set on the trip) it felt scary when semis, at their 75-80 mph speed and tens of thousands of pounds of mass, bore down on our little Toyota Corolla. Needless to say, we were the slowest vehicle on the road and only once did we pass anyone. This was an overloaded truck chugging up a Pennsylvania hill at about 40—and we breezed by. Of course, he left us in the dust on the next downhill and we never saw him again.
in 12 countries and 30 states. the day after I passed my road test. Going uphill I was worried about maintaining the state’s minimum. to Miami. Forty years ago. also. got a room. Between these three driving episodes I have had the opportunity to drive on three continents. New York. I was fortunate that when it started hailing I was only a few hundred feet from an exit and a warm. on Connecticut hills. I was traveling from Cambridge. and I was petrified that a bale of hay could fall off and crush me if I continued to tag along behind it. As I was waiting for hill that was long enough for me to pass it. the summer I got my first driver’s license. As soon as the precipitation started I pulled off the road. later in the trip. for my first job after graduating from college. On that trip.” Of course. something to the effect:: “Dumb Hoosier. I loved the German Autobahn with its lack of speed limits and the ever-present beer machines at rest stops. One of my memorable moments was 2 A Fiat X1/9 similar to author’s “Max” . My vehicle was my fiancée’s VW Bug which could. I was about to start teaching at Fox Lane High School’s summer session. only achieve 55 on the downhills. I was not worried about passing anyone.About 22 years ago I had a similar experience when I rode my silver Honda Elite 150 from Indianapolis. the fear of being crushed by a teetering hay bale was nothing compared with the panic that set in when a hail storm began. Massachusetts. It was a Sunday. to Mt. But. Indiana. Killed by Errant Hay Bale. Kisco. and then watched from its comfort and safety as baseball-sized hail peppered the landscape. Oklahoma. I would not even have attempted to pass that truck Silver Honda Elite 150 except that it was a hay Similar to author’s 1985 model truck with seven or eight layers of hay bales stacked on its bed. or speeding. safe motel. I had more than one thought about a possible headline in the local paper. the only vehicle I passed was a truck that was traveling about 2 miles slower than I—going up hill. I was so nervous about a possible accident that all I was concerned about was arriving at my destination in one piece.
lasted until recently. the mix of alcohol and driving ceased in 1985 when a second marriage prompted a commitment to stay away from “Demon Rum. with the only paved stretches running through the villages. Fortunately. In the U. wait till the set was over. on that road. wave. We would stop. “… You will see two unpaved roads going to the left. The only consolation in such a trip is the humor one derived from the Baedeker instructions for finding the correct turnoff on the road. and drive on. I never imagined reversing the excessive costs of gasoline by my actions. a travelogue of some length could also come out of such an exercise. One could not even go smoothly on those parts of the road because in almost all cases the pavement was used by the old men in the village as their bocce court. 3 . I figured. and the interesting places visited in these vehicles. The tendency to speed. on a summer evening in my Fiat X1/9 with its top removed. Alternatively.driving our commanding colonel’s staff car over 100 mph on this road as I visited our outlying Army hospitals in preparation to sending one of of the hospitals to help Jordan’s King Hussein in his battle against the Palestinians. borrowed. on occasion. The road at the head of which (on the right) there is an old oak tree is the one to take. Throughout all these adventures two invariables remained rather constant for some time: driving. Texas. and speeding. black and smooth like licorice. If I were ever to add up the various incidents and “adventures” with the different autos I’ve owned. but at least. the marriage has lasted. unambiguously. however. and rented in the past 40 years. my favorite memory is of going 90-100+ mph around the hills of Midland. I prayed that there would be no oncoming car. perhaps as interesting as Kerouac’s On the Road. …” There is also the memory of the mountain road (more like a goat track) in Greece that was just wide enough for our VW Beetle. I could minimize being fleeced. The trip to Honesdale this summer was a culmination of a commitment I made earlier when grappling with ways to cut our cost of transportation and to show directly. The road was serpentine. These peak moments of speeding were counterbalanced by episodes such as the 12-hour day driving the 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Plitvice to Shibennik (Yugoslavia) on rutted dirt roads. and there was one less menace on American and foreign roads. with the evening sun adding warmth of color to a landscape that I have not experienced again. and permanently my unwillingness to be fleeced by oil companies. that idea worked. or even person. I could write a sizeable chapter in a memoir. after excessive drinking.” so as to ensure a long-lived marriage.S.
however. few passenger cars take notice. 2) Try.” my driving until I achieved a workable balance between my initial goals and the realities of traveling on America’s roads. The final program that I developed consists of the following parts: 1) Don’t drive over the speed limit. This sign of courtesy and safety became a mark of impatience and arrogance in the U. and then for the minimum time possible. 4 . Perhaps the most inane instance of this type occurred recently on the Massachusetts Turnpike where a driver. except in very special circumstances. where the middle lane is the passing lane for both directions of traffic. I kept adjusting Author’s truck “resting. made this form of communication common. in New York state trucks and other commercial vehicles are not allowed on parkways. and since I always travel in the extreme right-hand lane.S. with all the passengers in the car indicating their displeasure with my driving style with unmistakably rude gestures. 3) Don’t drive over 55 miles per hour in any case.The original operational idea was simple—to travel five miles below the speed limit and not to exceed 45 miles per hour on interstates. with their light switches mounted on the steering wheel. and was made possible when imports. will flash his lights. Every oncein-a-while some idiot will get behind me and. Final experimentation on the trip to Honesdale proved that the goal of traveling at 45 on major highways was impractical. flashed his lights and then proceeded to lean on his horn as he passed me. and wonder if the driver even has an inkling that the technique of flashing lights to indicate an intention to pass came from Europe in the 1960’s. like a friend who admitted to traveling at 88 mph on the highway. to drive five miles below the speed limit. mainly as a courtesy to drivers sharing the common three-lane roads. whenever possible. So. I just marvel at this arrogant stupidity. Though posted at 55 mph. Fortunately. The only questionable part was the commitment to the 45 mph limit when traveling on the Taconic Parkway. only a few folks travel at 65 most go over that. approaching me at a high rate of speed in the extreme right lane. with two perfectly good lanes available for speeding. For a few weeks I experimented on my normal daily commute and the idea worked pretty well.
500-2. As an interesting by-product of this approach I observed that most automatic transmission cars (mine is a manual transmission) have their shift points in the same range of rpm. it does it so much more consistently and precisely than I could. 3) largely empty roads to travel on (because I am the slowest car on the road. I know that it must be substantial (I drive a Mazda 4-cylinder pickup truck). vehicle manufacturers are mandated to publish the carbon emission of their Unintended humor. My new approach to driving not only has helped achieve my immediate goals but also has contributed to the following societal and unexpected benefits: 1) lessening of carbon emissions. as well as by using cruise control whenever possible. 2008 5 . I am assured of the most efficient use of my engine. I really focused on driving style. Putnam County.These three rules achieved my initial goal without endangering my life or proving to be a driving hazard/nuisance. In Europe. a greater opportunity to meet people one otherwise would not encounter.000. everyone passes me and I have the highway to myself most of the time). While I have no idea how many tons of carbon dioxide are emitted by my vehicle over each 100 miles traveled. My wife’s older model Toyota Corolla lacks the cruise control and I find it much more difficult to keep to the 55 limit and to keep the throttle modulations in line with changes in the terrain (who would ever think of a Toyota Corolla’s being overpowered?). By ensuring that my engine rpm (revolutions per minute) seldom exceeds 2. 2) total relaxation in terms of fearing speeding tickets. every seventh fill-up was paid for by money saved by driving conservatively. This discovery gave me confidence and helped explain the frustration I used to feel when I would accelerate to 3. In essence. I am fortunate to have a tachometer and cruise control in my vehicle. 5) because of the increase in travelling time over distances. NY. The cruise control helps minutely adjust the throttle. and attempting stay in the range of 1.000. I feel fortunate to have it. manually.500 rpm only to be slowed down by a vehicle still traveling at lower rpm. 4) an opportunity to much more closely observe my surroundings. and 6) a much more rested mind and body when I arrive at my destination. To compensate for the loss of efficiency by driving 55 instead of the planned 45. The gas savings of nearly 20% reflect a similar diminution of carbon emissions. I achieved an overall 1518% increase in mileage (even with constant use of air conditioning in the summer).
as well as to increase mileage. But since I always drove “economy” models. that the real payment came in ways other than speeding tickets. or about the amount of carbon dioxide I was emitting. I live in a different reality. or hours of struggling against the headwind on the plateaus of central Spain. of all vehicles. this was accomplished simply by a lack of other cars on the road. Sometimes I would choose someone who was going a bit faster than I wanted to. Were it not a flat stretch of road and a flat median at that part of I-70.” If the general speed was around 70 mph I would travel at 72 or 73. In those days I also did not worry about the amount of gasoline I was burning needlessly.” This trick worked pretty well. vigilance. In all the years of speeding I constantly aspired to a stretch of the road where there was no competition with other cars. It is hard to describe the feeling of pleasure that I have now whenever I pass “Smokey” or a “Local Yokel” who is sitting in the median or the side of the road. except for one time on I-70 in Ohio when my designated “point man” decided to make a full stop in the extreme left lane when the state trooper flagged him down for speeding. the payment for speeding was spiritual and emotional rather than financial. Today. I would happily wave to the trooper holding a lonely vigil. and continual nervousness I experienced whenever I saw a police car all contributed to an ever-present level of stress and habitually hunched shoulders. Little did I realize. In fact. the trooper did not go after me and I successfully avoided a ticket.vehicles and there is a European Union-wide program to lower these emissions. despite the fact that as early as 1966 I was already aware of the growing ozone hole around Antarctica. At times. I felt that in comparison to everyone else I was being responsible. and usually sub-compacts. in those decades of crazy driving. This deluded thinking followed me until gas prices this summer (2008) forced me to reconsider my position. Fortunately. This way. And that brings me to the next point—being alone. I was mostly safe from unwanted attention from the police. I remember hours alone on the turnpike in Kansas. The constant attention. I probably would not now have the opportunity to write this. were it not for my fear of drawing too much attention to myself and possibly being misunderstood. For decades my driving strategy was to drive just at the leading edge of the “flow of traffic. I figured. to serve as “point man. I don’t look at the police car sitting at the side of the road as a threat or as an enemy. or the desolate periods experienced in winter in upstate New York and Vermont during the gas 6 .
There is no question that the new mode of driving increases time on the road. having either both or all three lanes empty.e. Since I enjoy photography. That is all changed. who has passed that particular spot a number of times in his decades of travel on that road but who never noticed the rocket. but I am perfectly content when it travels at 55 and very happy when it goes along at 45—my ideal speed. The vast majority of time I spend either totally by myself i. unique landmarks one has passed many times without noticing. NY. One great aspect of spending more unhurried time on the road is the opportunity to meet folks whom one previously would rush by. as well as the passing landscape. and the latter Autumn morning. allows one to “discover” some of the Westchester County. 2008. But usually my attempts to ‘”outrun” the immediate pack always ran into the difficulty of then having to wend my way through another pack a few miles and minutes later. the average has gone up by approximately 25%. That could be a negative aspect to this new approach to driving. the slower speed has made it much easier to see interesting landscapes and then to stop and photograph them. I even catch myself seeing thing for the “first” time after having passed them on numerous occasions. Another one was the opportunity to more closely observe my surroundings: the road itself and the traffic on it. Just like anyone else I am not happy when the bottleneck moves along at a crawl. New Hampshire. I chuckled recently when I described the wonder of seeing a Redstone rocket with a space capsule near Concord. but since I opted out of competing for being at the “head of the pack. I believe.. one dawdles a 7 . a certain kind of impatience disappears. or I suffer a brief swarm of buzzing vehicles before they speed off into the distance.crisis of the 1970’s. One takes more breaks. Once one is committed to the idea that it will take longer to go from point A to point B. and I am left to my own thoughts and observations.” while others switch lanes and do other things to eke out some imagined advantage I plod along happily until the jam clears. gives an additional margin of safety when traveling. In my case. to my son-in-law (a native of the state). I only become surrounded by other cars in traffic jams. Discovering the emptiness of roads in the suburbs of New York was one of the unimagined benefits of traveling at 55mph. but if one looks more closely it turns into a real blessing. The first. I go along at my chosen speed and don’t even notice cars that pass me by.
and we agreed happily to this suggestion. “So it goes. in the past six months I have had more friendly conversations and positive experiences with folks I have met on my travels than I had previously. again. This benefit is the comfort that my new driving habits have given my wife. since we were no longer in any hurry. while this incident Unintended humor near Concord. and generous woman. with great disgust in her voice. As Kurt Vonnegut would say. for $60. and she volunteered. It turned out that she was the mother of two and that this was her second job. which she kept in order to help one daughter with college book costs. and one is much more apt to engage in friendly conversation. we had a nice chat with our waitress. in part.. And I think that my attitude towards speeding has much to do with it. Before we left. NH.” In a strange and quirky way the decrease in speed actually helps one arrive earlier by making one’s full presence more easily and fully available sooner. and we left with a warm feeling for having met this hard-working. 2008. the waitress suggested that we might want to take some coffee along. When I look back over the time I have been driving 55 I realize that. that her daughter’s college bookstore offered to buy back the used textbooks at $5 each so that they could resell them. We talked a bit about kids. one that I failed to list initially. My wife and I were traveling to visit her younger daughter and family. that one is much more rested and recovers much faster from road weariness than when travelling at speed. For years she has been quietly driving at speed limit. When the bill came I expected an additional charge for the takeout coffee but discovered that it was included in the price of the coffee we had with the meal. We had our dinner and. On the way there we stopped at a restaurant for dinner. book costs. was particularly notable. psychological. Needless to say.bit more on those breaks. This disparity between buy and sell prices made our waitress really angry and she went on to say that she told her daughter to give away the books rather than allow herself to be exploited by the bookstore. loving. My hard accelerations and 8 . but one that has great significance in my life. when I paid the bill the tip was particularly generous.” As I was writing this piece a new benefit became apparent. I attribute this phenomenon to the significant reduction in stress caused by foregoing the “rat race. This brings me to the last benefit noted. etc. This phenomenon must be in part physiological. sometimes to the great annoyance to those who follow her. A case in point came up this past Thanksgiving weekend.
The reason for this confidence is that while my original intent was rather simple and quantifiable (I wanted to cut my transportation costs). somehow. so this mindfulness would be a wrong mindfulness and would not lead to a decrease in suffering. What is it worth to have your wife ride with you feeling more secure and safe? In our normal discourse we think of the word “mindfulness” as an equivalent of the word “awareness. emotions. and it is the seventh step of the “Noble Eightfold Path” by which the Buddha promises that life’s suffering can be overcome. as it is in most cases. My new style of driving is more comforting to her and I can feel her become much more relaxed as we travel. All thoughts. Driving 55 mph when that is the speed limit. the ensuing benefits of this commitment are much more—in a deeper and more spiritual realm. the recent dramatic drop in gasoline costs would have one revert to old patterns of driving. she kept her silence most of the time. But that has not happened because the intangible benefits are so much greater than just the financial rewards. the essence of the program will remain for the rest of my driving days. But. a safecracker can be very attentive to the sound of the tumblers in a lock falling into place. and actions in Buddhism are classified into three possible categories: right. I think that with the addition of possible changes to reflect winter driving. for example. further adjustments to the original program may be in order. my experience with following the speed limit is still relatively new. Mindfulness as “attention” can be any one of the three. and I conveniently ignored the signs of discomfort she exhibited. wrong. and I am glad that now she is a happier passenger.constant violation of speed limits disturbed her whenever she traveled as a passenger. But. actions. 9 . Watching attentively as a group of kids play a game would. In Buddhism. After experiencing the first winter. be neither right nor wrong. Admittedly. So. Were this decision merely a financial one.” or as being attentive to a matter. NY. For more than two decades she has suffered in silence. The concept of mindfulness is very important in Buddhism. and motivations. and would therefore Autumn morning moon on the Taconic Parkway. but the intent is criminal. or if it is higher. and neutral. mindfulness encompasses the same understandings but goes further in specifying concentrated awareness of thoughts. be classified as a neutral action. would be a right action and an exercise in the right kind of mindfulness. in most cases.
than would be 2008 natural (such as trying to have a fully developed human child in 8 months) or good. in that it is an attempt to fit more into a time frame Winter on the Taconic near Kent. i. Driving 55 is mindfulness. mindfulness transforms two negative qualities. as used here. It is little different than being impatient with a foreigner struggling with a new language while forgetting the years it took to master that same language. in my book. the gift of meeting and seeing new folks becomes a rush past a body that. so is the impatience with an older driver. gas economy becomes waste. or to show how much better one is than another person. Speeding manifests benefits that come with slower driving into opposite negative characteristics. and a more rested and quiet mind becomes an overtired brain trying to 10 . impatience and competitiveness.e. decrease in air pollution becomes an increase. security in knowing that police will not give you a speeding ticket becomes fear of the consequences of breaking the law. is an irritant. Impatience is greed. With speeding. is a kind of intolerance of differences. is a form of intolerance and even greed. In driving 55. who may not have the reflexes of a 20 year-old. NY. is the transformation of a potentially negative reality into a positive reality through concentrated attention and right action. such as a horse with blinders would experience. the desire to vanquish someone. And in this understanding the right action is always the one that leads to the lessening of suffering in others and oneself. the joy of observation becomes a narrowed focus. To be impatient with a driver who is slow because of a faulty or old auto. by its mere presence. the pleasure of having a road to oneself becomes a crowded swarm of equally impatient drivers.In the Buddhist understanding of the term “mindfulness” we have a concentrated attentiveness that is the right action for a situation. Mindfulness. Impatience.
a good outcome to that feeling of competitiveness? Do people feel better. and finished. There are many reasons for this state of affairs. But then. even though a man 30 years my senior posted a better time. In the past 20 years attitudes toward 11 . In nearly 40 years of driving. But. ecological. I laughed with pleasure and joy and wished I could have seen him and shaken his hand. Why talk about economic. most important in this system of enabling the current state of affairs is the fact that the likelihood of suffering an easily perceivable and direct negative consequence for wrong behavior is so slight. you do arrive faster and are able to collapse sooner from fatigue or have a few drinks to shake the road weariness. I was never stopped. Will beating that car to the traffic light. and psychic benefits of following the speed limit when it is simply a matter of law? One would think that law —the most tangible part of a culture’s social contract---would be sufficient to achieve the ends enumerated. I was not running to compete with him but to win over my feelings of resistance to the discipline of this sport. competed. But as a recent article on the Drive55. Yes. the spouse? The spouse becomes a quietly suffering being giving a prayer of thanksgiving whenever you arrive safely at the destination and always slightly dreading the next trip. Is the price really worth it? The desire to go faster than the car next to you is competitiveness and in all but race driving has few benefits. drive while intoxicated. on occasion.org website indicates. perhaps. nor did I receive a ticket for that offense. really going to make you feel better about the illness of a dying friend? Is driving from New York to Boston in two hours really going to help anything or anyone? Is killing a deer blinded by your lights because you drove too fast to stop in time. usually going above the speed limit. And despite the fact that in nearly 20 years of driving I would. and more loving when they feel vanquished by your superior car or driving prowess? And do you feel better about yourself when you outrace a grey-haired driver? I know that when I finished the Marine Corps Marathon and discovered that an 84 year-old man had finished a whole hour ahead of me. over 80% of drivers observed recently on the New York Thruway violate the speeding laws. more peaceful. And.block the images of constantly flashing lane markers. And I did win—I trained. not the least of which are roads that are engineered to accommodate traffic going well in excess of the speed limit. I have received a total of four speeding tickets. of which one was a warning. at which both will have to wait the same amount of time. It would seem that there should be no need for this essay.
org. 12 . the recent cost disincentive served as the initial inspiration (moment of awakening) for my change in behavior. more of us would be motivated to become law abiding and thereby create greater social benefits and experience some of the rewards outlined in this piece. It is my hope that speeding-oriented organizations. It is my contention that.drinking and driving have changed substantially and it is probably much more likely that I would be stopped today if I were still violating the law in this manner. In my case. will create a similar kind of cultural and legal imperative for a sane approach to driving. such as Drive55. attitudes toward drinking and driving were fundamentally affected by grassroots organizations such as MADD. In large part. if other disincentives were structured into our daily driving reality.
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