Monday, July 11, 2011

Proceed With Caution

Angeles Crest Highway

With all the driving I've been doing down winding mountain roads - Angeles Crest, Anza-Borrego, Palomar Mountain, Palms to Pines - as I round each bend, navigate each hairpin turn, avoid each shoulder railing, rock slide, oncoming truck and passing motorcyclist, I keep thinking about the lessons I learned in Driver's Ed, somehow that have stayed with me for nearly 20 years.

A couple years ago, Edith and I started traveling a lot together, and although usually I rented the car, we'd either split the driving duties, or I'd decide when it was safe for her to get behind the wheel (something she rarely did in New York City in the years since first earning her driver's license). From the passenger seat, I'd find myself reciting the lessons of my driving instructors, regurgitating the text from the driver's manual (still fresh in my mind after recently having passed the written test for my California driver's license).

Once, in between a couple of our trips, apparently Edith tested out her new-found driving skills in the car with someone other than me - someone slightly more fearful of death than me.

"Why did you tell Edith to hit the gas on a curve?" Uh oh. Her husband didn't act very happy with me.

"Well..." I paused. "That's not exactly what I said. What I told her was, to brake slightly before the curve, and then to accelerate gently into the curve. Because you have more control over your driving when you're accelerating than when you're braking."

"Oh," he said, softening. "That makes sense."

Whenever things seem harrowing on those forever undulating mountain roads, even though I'm inclined to slam on the brakes, I know that stopping too quickly will send me tumbling over the edge. Instead, I just slow down (usually to whatever the posted speed limit is, because whoever puts those up knows what they're talking about), make it halfway through the curve, and then start to gently accelerate again to get me through to the next turn.

No matter what, you have to keep going. Even if you hit the brakes and stop safely in the middle of the road, there's someone behind you who can't see you, will accelerate through the curve, and will come crashing into you.

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