"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
— the late George Carlin
When I drove to Memphis a couple of weeks ago, I did a new thing — I drove under the de jure speed limit. Normally, I do what most people do, stay under the de facto limit — staying carefully under a speed that is 10 mph over the limit.
This change on my part wasn’t due to some newfound respect for the law. We know that here in the United States, no state actually means for us to drive below the stated speed. If they did, the police would stop and ticket us for exceeding it. We all know that a trooper will sit right there and watch you go by if you’re doing 78 in a 70 zone, for instance. But go 85, and he’ll get you. (One exception to this may be the Mississippi patrolmen, who are apparently too busy speeding themselves to notice anyone else doing it.)
Nor was I doing it to help fight the War on Terror. I agree with Samuel Tenenbaum that we should lower the limit to 55 and enforce it, but in the meantime, driving that much slower than the surrounding traffic is not only unsafe, but will not have a sufficiently measurable impact on energy independence to make taking your life in your hands worth it. We’ve all got to do it for it to help.
No, I drove below the limit because my family was packed into three cars, and one of those contained my wife and daughter and the six-month-old twins, and they had to stop frequently. My wife said it made her nervous to try to stay within sight of each other, so I went on ahead, but tried not to get too far ahead.
And you know what? I kind of liked it. It was … more relaxing.
Anyway, when I was getting ready for this trip, I ran into Samuel, and he said "Drive 55!" And I said I didn’t think I could do that, because I had to drive to Pennsylvania, pack my daughter’s belongings into my truck, drive back from Pennsylvania with all the stuff, and unload it at the place where she’s going to be living back in South Carolina, all between Friday morning and Monday afternoon. But I did promise to stay below the posted limits. "But that means you’ll be driving 70!" Actually, no, I assured him — since so much of the trip is in Virginia (limit 65), and the limit in PA is 65 or 55, and the small bit of Maryland is 65 or 60 (around Hagerstown), and the first 50 miles of North Carolina is 60, my average would be far below 70.
So I did it yesterday, and the results were good.
I drive a 2000 Ford Ranger. And for those of you who wonder why the founder of the Energy Party doesn’t drive a Prius, consider three things:
I can’t afford a Prius. I don’t foresee a time anywhere in the near future when I will be able to afford a Prius.
I am the designated truck owner in the family — my large, extended family. No one closely related to me owns a large, truck-type vehicle of any kind — certainly no SUVs, I’m happy to say. Whenever one of my 20-something children has to move from one apartment to another, or building materials are needed, or an attic full of stuff has to be hauled either to Goodwill or the dump or whatever, I’m the guy; I’ve got the truck.
I’ve done everything I can to be responsible about this truck-ownership thing. I went out of my way to find a 4-cylinder, manual transmission. (What this means is that I’m not only the designated truck owner, but the designated truck driver, since no one else has confidence with the manual shift, and I prefer to drive my own truck anyway.)
This brings up an ironic digression. We looked into renting a truck for moving my daughter from PA. It was going to cost more than $700 — we tried several vendors — plus the cost of renting a car to get up there. So we decided to give away a lot of her stuff — my daughter’s fine with that — and haul back only what I could get onto my Ranger. (To get your mind around this, picture the Beverly Hillbillies, only we opted not to take a rocking chair for Granny.) But I needed new tires. So I splurged and bought (via credit card) four new tires. Changing the tires revealed bearings that needed repacking, the need for new tie rod ends, and original shocks that were overdue for replacement at 110,000 miles. Total: $1,450 dollars. Samuel and Jerry Whitley, who is a CPA, told me that at least I was investing it in my truck instead of wasting it on a rental. So I guess that’s something. And it drives really well down, without that shimmy every time I went over the slightest irregularity in the road.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, my point: I drove under the speed limit the whole way. Normally, my truck gets about 22 mpg in town. I had never had it on the highway for an extended period before. Driving below the limit, I got 27 mpg on my first tank of gas. I refilled when we finally rolled into Carlisle, PA, last night, and I had gotten an awesome 28.7 mpg on the second tank. Not as good as the 31 or so we had done in my wife’s car on the Memphis trip, but this is a truck — and as we know, Detroit has put zero effort into making the things efficient, on account of their being exempted from CAFE standards all those years.
So I think it was worth the extra hour and a half or so it took — or whatever. I didn’t want to actually do the math, because that might make me want to hurry on the trip back. It’s like a Zen thing. We left Cola at 10 a.m., stopped several times, and got to Carlisle at about 8:10 p.m.
And it was also a more relaxing drive. Once you drop the usual "Gotta get there! Gotta press the guy in front of me!" mode, your head gets into a better place. I noticed this on the Memphis trip as well.