Passing judgment in the fast lane

Kevin Cowherd

April 07, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

Of all the fools driving on the roads these days -- and there are so many you'd think drivers licenses came in gum-ball machines -- one type in particular causes me to go ballistic.

This is the person who pokes along in the fast lane and refuses to move over so you can pass.

Unfortunately, this is considered perfectly normal behavior in much of the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Not only are these blockheads rarely subject to arrest by the police, but they face minimal harassment from fellow motorists as well.

For instance, you hardly ever see one of these drivers forced to the shoulder of the road, yanked from the car and slapped silly, which of course is what these people deserve.

Oh, I can hear the bleeding hearts now: "My God, we can't have motorists going around slapping each other! Why, that would be . . . anarchy!"

Wrong. That would be justice. Anarchy is what we have now, with all these people clogging the passing lanes.

Anyway, I bring this up because of an ugly incident that occurred the other day on the Beltway.

I was driving along in my usual cautious manner -- hands at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions on the steering wheel, speedometer glued at 55 (wink, wink), eyes alertly scanning the road for the usual assortment of psychos, drunks and amphetamine-gobbling truckers.

Suddenly I found myself behind a Cadillac, which is always a bad sign.

The Cadillac was creeping along at 50 mph in the fast lane. I kept hoping the driver would emerge from the inter-stellar fog that apparently enveloped his brain, glance in the rear-view mirror and move over so I could pass.

Then I saw something that made me realize the chances of this happening were zero. I saw that the driver was an old guy wearing a hat.

I don't know what it is about old guys in hats, but they are the absolute worst people to drive behind.

(Look, I don't want to hear any nonsense about ageism here. This isn't ageism. I have seen old guys shoot past me on the highway like they were Big Daddy Don Garlits at the Winternationals. I have seen 70-year-old grandmothers hurtling down country lanes like it was the final lap of the Daytona 500.

(But for some reason, old guys in hats tend to putter along. And they think they own the road.)

Sure enough, this guy in the Caddy showed no signs of moving over.

By now, we were going so slowly that there were 10 cars behind me. It looked like a funeral procession, which is an apt analogy because all of us wanted to kill this guy. Finally, there was a break in the traffic and I decided to pass the guy on the right.

As I passed him, I did what I always do when some jerk is hogging the lane. I shot him a dirty look.

And the old guy in the hat, he . . . well, you're not going to believe what he did. He flipped me the finger!

Shocked? Oh, you betcha. Tell me, what kind of a country do we live in when fedora-wearing senior citizens in Cadillacs are making obscene gestures at decent, God-fearing citizens?

Understand, I've had lots of people give me the finger in traffic. Fast-track executives yakking on car phones while power-merging onto the expressway, beered-up college kids swerving between lanes, tractor-trailer drivers roaring up on my rear bumper in the slow lane . . . they've all let me know in that uniquely American way that they found my driving skills not quite up to snuff.

But this . . . this was some guy who looked like Burgess Meredith, for God's sake!

It occurred to me later that the old buzzard in the hat probably had the same twisted mind-set as my mother once had.

For years, my mother would immediately gravitate to the left-hand lane, where she'd drive at a steady 55. No matter how many cars were backed up behind her, she'd refuse to move over.

"They can go around me," she'd say, eyes narrowing with silent fury.

One day, as gently as possible, I pointed out that the left lane is to be used only for passing -- which would explain all those dirty looks she was getting.

I also noted that people have actually been shot at -- in places other than California, even -- for hogging the left lane. And that did it. Just the mention of guns was enough to make her reassess her driving habits.

Still, I never dreamed there would come a day when old guys in hats would be terrorizing other motorists with hand signals on our nation's highways. Some things are just too horrible to envision.

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