Here in The Big City, we have got big-city-type freeway traffic: nose-to-tail, at or over the speed limit unless there's been a wreck or the number of cars has exceeded the capacity of the road (parts of the "Inner Loop" of interstates 65 and 70 through downtown are notorious for this), and pretty "red in tooth an claw" when it comes to exits and merging. Here at the crossroads of Southern-style semi-courteous and Yankee-type "get your nose in and just keep moving" traffic manners,† you can never be quite sure what the other drivers will get up to -- and from the number of last-minute four-lane cross-dashes, some of them aren't either.
I don't like it. In fact, I fear and loathe it. Driving a small and nimble car helps; even the little Hyundai Accent and Suzuki Samurai I once drove usually had enough zip to get out of the way; while the bigger Lexus RX300 I have is scarcely petite, it's got decent acceleration, good brakes and a very positive control feel.
On the other hand-- Last afternoon, I got tapped to do some field work. Pretty simple -- take a heavily-laden "Sprinter" panel van ten miles down the aforementioned Inner Loop, drive another few miles of stop-and-go suburban traffic to a location, set up, work with a crew for a couple of hours, and then return to base. The actual work is a snap -- set up a microwave link, run a few cables and an extension cord, push a few buttons and then take it all down afterwards. But driving that bedamned truck--!!!
It's ferociously underpowered. Maybe if it was kitted out with plumber's tools and supplies or filled with parcels to be delivered, it would be fine, but in my trade, we mount thousands of pounds of equipment in these vans. 0-60 is a matter of a couple of minutes; okay, I can deal with that, see "Suzuki Samurai" above.* But the brakes are frighteningly spongy and slowing or stopping is more of a request than a command. Steering is a little soft and tends to hunt. None of these are so bad as to make the vehicle dangerous -- but when you put, oh, me at the wheel and head into bumper-to-bumper, 65 mph, multi-lane traffic on a route where highways merge and split and some of the exits require getting across two and four lanes merging into six in what seems like barely enough distance, it's a recipe for white knuckles.
There and back, I kept putting my hands on the wheel in the well-defined modern 4:30/7:30 position, and the next time I'd glance down, they'd be back at 1970s Driver's-Ed 10 and 2, my bloodless knuckles all but glowing in the instrument lights. On the return trip, I made sure to free up and flex one hand or the other before they started to ache.
Made it, didn't even miss an exit or split, don't think I cut off any semis or even ordinary cars (large side mirrors topped with convex "panorama" mirrors are some help), but it certainly got me to my target heart rate and boosted my adrenaline.
* The tough little baby SUV has a sub-one-liter engine about the size of an old-fashioned tabletop sewing machine and nearly the same horsepower-to-weight ratio as a full semi tractor-trailer. They're pretty good up to 45 mph if you flirt with the red line and don't mind doing a lot of shifting but at freeway speeds, it runs with the trucks. The drivers seem greatly amused by this
† U.S. 40, running smack through the middle of town from east to west, is the "greaSy/greaZy" dialect divider, one marker of Northern/Southern speech. We really do have all kinds. OTOH, it's 2015, which is to say you probably do too, wherever you live.
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
11 months ago