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Keep on Truckin'

Driving home, wobbly.



I had made it about a mile when the first driver crowded up behind me. He wasn't being obnoxious, though; he was only driving the speed limit.

The gods of the road had decided to give me a little test in patience: a 17-year-old truck that wobbled above 45 mph. The wobble -- rating somewhere shy of drink-spilling but well above mood-testing -- was made worse by several factors: Its source was a mystery; it was discovered in a small town late in the evening before Memorial Day, meaning it wouldn't be fixed for a while; it raised the possibility that the truck could cease functioning at any moment; and I was 300 miles and one big mountain pass away from home.

So, when the first car caught up with me, I knew there would be many more. In fact, there was one right behind that one. It was clear I would be playing the role of old man, perhaps even tractor, on the road that day.

But the best thing you can realize at times like that is that there are things you can control and things you can't. I couldn't control anybody's reaction to me going 45 on a U.S. highway, for example. And while I could have taken it up to about 60 or 65, the probable result would have been things shaking off the truck and making things worse. (I wanted to ask some of the more uptight drivers whether they'd prefer driving behind my whole truck at 45 or dodging my canopy at 70).

I couldn't control the fact that everybody else wanted to go 70 either, but I could control whether they got past me or not. So I pulled onto the shoulder in a wide spot, and three cars went whipping past. One of them honked, a gesture I chose to take as one of thanks.

Two miles later, I had a motorcycle on my tail, and he damn near killed several of us trying to pass. I guess guys with only two wheels but a lot of speed consider themselves immortal, or at least they think speed is the answer to all things, because this guy came right around me without slowing or signaling -- and was face-to-face at a hundred yards with an SUV. A hundred yards is a lot, unless you're both doing 70 right at each other. That motorcycle practically tattooed his license-plate number on my grill getting back into the right lane.

About 20 miles out, the road got curvy, and the grimness level inched upward. Not only were cars stacking up behind me, now I could see them too. The ensuing guilt nearly had me careening into a ranch driveway at 45, which would have been interesting what with that irrigation ditch right next to it. I began to crave towns, rest stops, wide spots, anything that would let me pull over so I could feel less heel-like. I started counting backups and reached a total of about 17 vehicles.

At the base of the mountain pass, I received the ultimate insult: A motor home caught up with me. It took him awhile, because he was probably doing 47 mph, and he brought a lot of cars with him. When he got close enough in the rearview mirror, I thought I could see the confusion in his eyes; he probably hadn't passed anybody since his wife made him lose the Corvette. He finally made it by me, with his harem of a couple dozen cars, when I lost patience and just drove on the shoulder. That particular shoulder had those warning bumps that make your car really shake when you hit them -- or at least they make most cars shake. I hardly noticed them.

The wobble, by the way, wasn't getting any worse. And, as I found out later, that's why I'm still alive. When I got home and took the truck to my trusted mechanic, he looked at the tires, pointed out the blatant bald spots and tread starting to come apart, and said, "I'm half-surprised you made it to the shop on these." I did my best Mississippi version of "sheee-iit" then told him I had driven 300 miles on these tires the day before. Then he had the same look on his face that I usually get when he hands me the bill. I confess to having enjoyed the little turning of the tables.

Still, when he pointed out that the worst of the tires, by far, was the front left and after I had used a little theoretical physics to hypothesize what would have happened had the front-left tire exploded while somebody was passing me, I got a little humble. I was reminded, then, that sometimes we do better in situations if we don't really know what we're doing. We just go our own speed and try to stay out of other people's way then say a little prayer of thanks when we get somewhere.

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