Saturday, November 07, 2015

I Do Not Like Freeway Traffic

     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.


pigpen51 said...

i love driving. However, you have my respect. I would never drive anything like that in traffic, unless I was forced to.
As far as a dividing line for different types of speech, being a Michigander, I think that your dividing line is also mark for manners and common courtesy. I have noticed how much more civilized people seem to be the further south I go.

Old NFO said...

You're not the first to complain about those 'transit' type vans... Glad you made it though!

jdunmyer said...

During the 1990s, I worked in Detroit, using I-75 North to get there. As I passed the Marathon refinery and approached the Rouge River bridge (4 lanes each direction), I could just about feel my heart rate and blood pressure rise, probably to unhealthy levels. Am so glad that it's only rarely that I must drive in such conditions these days. Of course, I can easily relate to your recent experience: try driving in that sort of situation with your pickup and travel trailer. That's a rig that's about 50' long, with similar performance to your Sprinter van.

The worst is the jerks who come down the ramp at 50-55 MPH. If I'm able and willing to move over, they invariably enter the highway at about my speed (60 MPH), hang alongside for a bit, then realize that they're in a 70 MPH zone and speed up. By that time, traffic has begun to pile up behind me, and the impatient ones will pass on the right, preventing me from moving back into my lane. And who are all those following drivers pissed at? ME, not the dipwad who caused it.

A friend once related his idea: you'd carry a gun that shoots suction-cup-equipped darts that carry "I'm stupid" flags. You shoot the offending cars, and when they collect a half-dozen or so, the cops pull the driver over and write a citation.

fillyjonk said...

I have to drive 15 passenger vans (the newer kind; we were warned the old kind can tip over easily so now we only use the newer ones for student transport). They have NO pick up. I have no idea just how underpowered they are compared to the older vans but I admit I always go the longer, backroads way to the field site because I fear taking the van on the interstate, with its notoriously bad drivers (where you may have to quickly accelerate to avoid a problem).

And yeah, we also get the kind of "doot-do-doo" entrants to the interstate that Jim complained about. I can predict exactly which exit it will be at, and that it will probably be a very old pickup truck driven by an even older rancher dude. Except they NEVER speed up, they keep going at 55 on a 70 mph least I can pass them and get back over into the righthand lane.

Anonymous said...

It's *possible* the spongy brakes may need just need a good bleeding or one of the flexible hoses is developing a bit of an aneurysm...

As for the rest of it, vehicles of that type are often bought by small businesses who highly value *economy* and that results in the lack of quality in the vehicle in general...

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Driving out of St Louis last night on I-170 and I-270 had my heart rate up, and it didn't come back down till I was across the Big Muddy and about 40 miles into Illinois. And I'm used to DC Beltway driving.

Some guy in Vandalia, I think KD9E maybe, was working simplex on 146.52 and must have had a hell of a rig, a great antenna, or both. I heard him for nearly 60 miles and never heard a peep out of the guys he was working. Some footprint!

fast richard said...

I generally try to stick with the 465 loop around Indy with the eighteen wheelers I drive. Sometimes I have to cut through the middle, but I don't do it often enough to be sure which lane I need until the signage makes it clear. It can be stressful.

St Louis is generally worse, but I've never seen St Louis as bad as DC.