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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Slo Mo

We have all encountered at least one of these on the road; someone who drives so erratically... so randomly... so counter-intuitively... so contrary to the etiquette and norms of the road... that they are likely to go their entire lives without getting so much as a nicked fender, but will almost certainly leave countless near-misses and wrecks in their wake.

During the many years I've been commuting the 150+ km (round trip) each day, I've become aware of a particular driver on the road.

This gentleman, who I'll call 'Slo Mo', because I found out (as will soon be made clear), that his first name is the same as the Gentleman who led the Jews out of Egypt. Oh, and because he drives sloooow. Most of the time, anyway.

Slo Mo is an older gentleman who must have been self-taught behind the wheel. I say this because when following him, the first thing one notices is that his speed varies constantly between 30% - 90% of the posted speed limit. It isn't just that he accelerates to within spitting distance of the speed limit and then coasts for awhile. No, I know this isn't the case because his short bursts of speed are immediately followed by the flash of brake lights and rapid deceleration.

Based on first-hand reports (from friends who have hitched rides with him), Slo Mo's nauseating speed fluctuations are caused by the fact that he drives his automatic European sedan with his right foot on the gas and his left foot on the brake, using the two pedals alternately, the way most manual transmission drivers use the gas and clutch.

The first few times I encountered Slo Mo (I didn't know his name then), I thought he was being passive aggressive. He would slow up on even the mildest curves to the point that anyone following him would be forced to jam on their brakes. But once the road straightened out again, he would suddenly stamp on the gas, frustrating the timing and momentum of anyone trying to pass him.

I can honestly say that for several months I was convinced he was deliberately blocking attempts to pass him and was getting a power thrill from the resulting conga-line of cars and trucks (and even tractors) that would end up strung out behind him. But after studying him for awhile (and seeing that he didn't even seem to notice me when I did succeed in passing him), I realized that he was simply oblivious to the affect his erratic driving was having on other drivers.

After nearly a year of encountering Slo Mo at various points in my commute, I set about trying to figure out his schedule and points of origin/destination so I could alter my own commute schedule and avoid him altogether. What I finally figured out was that he was a resident of my own town... and he worked just north of the city where I earn my own living. But try as I might, I never seemed to manage to catch up with him inside my town... meaning, I couldn't figure out who he was.

So for several more months, he was just an annoyance in a known make/model of car, and a familiar profile (on the occasions when I managed to pass him) in the driver's side window.

Then one day I was setting out for work with a few of my carpool mates in the car, when I pulled over to offer a ride to a few people who were standing at the big intersection just south of my town. A familiar looking older gentleman nodded when I said I was going to Beer Sheva, but before he managed to get in I whispered to may carpool mates that we were about to meet the infamous Slo Mo in the flesh.

As we pulled away from the bus stop, I looked in the mirror at the man in the back seat (to make sure it was really him) and then said, "What happened to your car? Is it in the shop?".

He didn't seem surprised by the question, and answered in a booming tenor, "Yes, it's time for the scheduled maintenance and they didn't have a loaner for me".

I was sorely tempted to ask if it was because they knew he was murder on the brakes, but instead asked, "You're going down to the Omer Industrial Area, right?"

Now he was genuinely surprised. "How did you know that?", he asked.

I just smiled conspiratorially at my carpool mates and said, "There aren't that many of us who make the daily commute down south... I make it a habit of knowing who else is on the road with me."

He seemed to accept the explanation, and from there we all talked comfortably about random topics until it came time to drop him near his office. He thanked me for the ride, and I gave him my number in case his return commute coincided with ours.

I have to admit, as much as I wanted to really hate the guy for the way he drove, it was hard not to like him. His big booming voice was perhaps a little hard to take. But overall, he seemed a genuinely nice guy.

There was only one other time that Slo Mo ended up on my car. It was on a day between when he had to turn in his old company car, but before they had delivered his new one. Again on that occasion I enjoyed his company... but was genuinely stumped how someone who was so nice in a passenger seat could be such a clueless (and actually dangerous!) terror behind the wheel.

Since I've been commuting on my scooter this past year, Slo Mo has become less of a hazard, and more of a slalom obstacle. Unless I encounter him on a truly blind curve, I find it easy enough to anticipate his random braking, and shoot past him. But I have to admit, occasionally I hang back to marvel at the magnificence of his dysfunctional driving.

However, once I notice a growing line of impatient drivers behind me, I simply make my move and zip on past into the open road ahead. In that respect, he's like a moving pick... ensuring that for at least the next few miles (if not the rest of my commute), I'll have the road to myself.

I'm not sure why I felt the need to tell you about Slo Mo today. Maybe it's because we all have our nemeses on the road. Maybe we meet them only once and (hopefully) live to tell the tale. And maybe we meet them over and over again, gaining an ulcer in the process... or simply a good story to tell.

Posted by David Bogner on April 27, 2011 | Permalink

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With all the crazy Israeli drivers,I`m surprised he and his car are still in working condition,given his driving habits.

Posted by: ED | Apr 27, 2011 5:14:04 PM

And that? THAT is why I don't drive. Because I am a nervous wreck of a driver, a menace on the road, and I know it. It's amazing that nobody accepts this as an explanation, but it's true.

Posted by: uberimma | Apr 27, 2011 8:31:59 PM

Great story. Why not resurrect the car pool and get him in it? Just don't let him drive.

Posted by: aparatchik | Apr 27, 2011 10:00:56 PM

Great story.

Bad Cohen's grandfather reportedly never learned the proper use of a stick shift, and drove his 20-mile commute over dirt roads in 2nd gear the whole way, there and back.

Posted by: Tzipporah | Apr 27, 2011 10:34:52 PM

When my dad gave me my first driving lesson he said to me, You use your right foot for the gas and your left for the brake. I responded with, Dad I need professional lessons. It also makes for a very jerky ride, I still get car sick when I ride with him. Good luck avoiding Slo Mo on the road

Posted by: Frozenchallah | Apr 28, 2011 4:53:27 AM

Thanks, I needed that story. Slo Mo reminds me of my father's driving in his later years. He was a great driver throughout most of my life, but about the time he hit 70 years old, he seemed to adopt the two-foot method of driving (this from a farm boy who started driving a manual transmission tractor at 9-10 years old). He would accelerate away from stop signs up to about 40 mph (in a posted 35 mph speed zone) and he would suddenly brake about 40 feet before making a right-hand turn. My wife and I were riding in the back seat one time and he hit the brakes to make a turn and sent her purse sliding off the seat and onto the floor as we both braced ourselves against the seats, doors, or anything else within reach.

So tonight Slo Mo reminded me of my late father... and that is a great treat. Thank you.

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Apr 28, 2011 5:49:15 AM

I once made a comment to a teacher that religious people shouldn't drive. After trips on the highway, I have lost my cool, called people names, quickly apologized for calling them names, gotten frustrated trying to find ways of saying, "Why are you driving so STUPIDLY?! Not that *you're* stupid, person-in-the-other-car-who-can't-even-hear-me, but your *actions* are stupid!" which is in NO WAY satisfying when you're behind someone who is driving stupidly.

So, driving causes Lashon HaRa, Sinat Chinam, releases bad middot, and all sorts of other awful things that we're meant to avoid.

SloMo is a perfect example of this - my head would explode if I was stuck behind him regularly and I would fight so hard to avoid thinking all sorts of bad things about him. And in the end, he's a nice guy and doesn't deserve bad thoughts. Maybe his driving does, but he doesn't. And therein lies the challenge.

And it's not like anyone can talk to him about his driving, right? Right?

Posted by: Alissa | Apr 28, 2011 12:04:50 PM

The worst thing is ... he probably thinks he's a great driver! :-(

Posted by: Mark | Apr 28, 2011 10:22:38 PM

can't someone tell him?

Posted by: rickismom | May 1, 2011 9:06:26 AM

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