The Next Exit



I’m scooting along on a stretch on Hwy 40, travelling at about 76 mph, as I head to work. To my right, and slightly ahead of me by a car length, is a big ass truck. To my left, more commuters. It’s a three to five lane spread, depending on the stretch of road and if there’s an exit nearby. We are approaching an exit. A car is suddenly on my right hand side, moves past me and gets directly behind the big-ass truck, then, sans the blinker, moves over in front of me. I won’t say cut me off because I didn’t have to slam my brakes on, just give a nice, sharp push. The truck that was following this car in the other lane is sliding slowly up past me and headed to claim his spot behind the big-ass truck. Then it happens.


The car who had to suddenly be in front of me decides they need to be not only back in their lane, but needs to take the current exit, another two lanes over. The problem was this: the exit was directly to everyone’s right, like at a 90⁰ angle to the right. So they swerved drastically to the right, cutting in front of the truck that was next to me, squeezing between his front bumper and the back of the big-ass truck and missing both by a couple of feet, and then across two more lanes, and disappeared.


I express my usual verbal opinion to an empty car. “Stupid F@ck.” There used to be an exclamation point in there, but I’m a little numb to idiots now days. Let me put this in context.


I had to work a few weeks in Nashville this month. When I first got on the highways surrounding Nashville, I looked up to see a digital sign over the road telling me that “201 people have died in car wrecks in Tennessee so far this year. Don’t be next.” A definite WOW factor in their message. And I applauded them for not being politically correct and putting it out there for idiots to chew on. After a week there, I read a paper that told me that on the stretch of road I travel every morning, there had been 43 wrecks since the first of the year. That’s an average of one accident every three days. And that was only for a stretch between two sequential exits on that road, not the whole thing. So of all the sections of highway you might want to screw around on, this would not be the one.


Flash forward a week later. I leave work and head to a massive bookstore west of Nashville. As I approach the same exit I take every day, I head to the right fork, which actually takes you back left (thanks Nashville, makes sense). But that was muscle memory. I meant to head down the two lane fork to the left, which takes you back right (thanks Nashville, makes sense). Then it happens. I glance once in the rearview and suddenly cut across four lanes of traffic. I made my exit. And I immediately expressed my usual verbal opinion to an empty car. “You stupid F@ck! What the F@ck are you doing!” Exclamation points and all.


I can see that sign overhead indifferently ticking off one more body count as it tallies its statistics. My wife and kids back home crying over my grave. Some guys with the TDOT steaming my remains off the pavement. The guy behind me saying the same thing about me that I say about other people. I’m shocked at myself. I am a man possessed. I must exorcise this demon immediately. As I drive, I begin pondering what caused me to act like an idiot, putting myself and others in mortal danger.


Anger. The driving and layout of the roads in Nashville is sometimes horrible. You might move through three different exits in the span of a few minutes. And if you miss one, you’re out the fifteen to twenty minutes it takes you to follow whatever road you’re on to the next turnaround. You have no choice. Late for something? Too bad. Extra gas. Extra time. Extra late.


Idiot factor. You feel like an idiot for missing it. How hard can it be, you say to yourself, to figure out which freaking exit to take? What are you, a moron? Yes and no. Sometimes, things appear to be arranged to purposely confuse you. Take the road names themselves. Even-numbered highways run East-West and odd-numbered run North-South. So interstate 65 runs North-South and I40 and I440 runs East-West. Then you have I24. It runs at close to a 45 degree angle, but more north and south than east and west. Go look on a map and tell me what you think. And right where I24 connects I40 and I440, it’s completely vertical on the map. So if you’re trying to decipher how to head east on I440, take a connecting road that runs north-south on a map, and then ramp onto I40 headed east again, and you know you need to head north on this connecting road (I24), do you translate that north into I24 east or I24 west? Quick now, you’ve been driving for a couple of hours, you have to piss like a Russian race horse, you’re late for work, and if you miss the exit, you’ll be late for both things. You’ve got a mile to decide and you’re surrounded by idiots on all sides. It’s raining. And . . . Oh, you remembered that west takes you back towards Nashville, so that would mean north is actually west and HOLY SH!T THERE’S THE F#CKING EXIT! NOW! NOW! NOW!


In short, it’s a high-pressured, instantaneous decision made by an idiot with dementia. So how to override this seemingly involuntary, knee-jerk reaction?


Know that you are filthy rich.


When you tell someone about your commute to work, do you relate it in miles or minutes? More than likely minutes. We measure our morning drive in time, not distance. It’s time we are battling. You don’t think about anything beautiful that you might pass by every morning. You don’t think about landscapes and things along the way. You think about whether or not some idiot is going to cut you off. If there’s something in the road you won’t see until it’s too late. Whether or not your boss is going to give you grief over those 10 minutes. Or you go into a catatonic daydream state. You know, where you sometimes think back and realize that for the last 15 seconds, you have no idea what’s been happening on the road around you? I did that one time on the way to Birmingham and lost close to a minute. Was on a straight-away and looked up and was on the other side of a curve. I’m not certain, but I think I went for about a mile and half in internal-movie mode. That’s some scary sh!t.


So the clock is our Master. We bow to it with our pedal. We look at shaving off a few seconds by passing 3 cars before we get over. We race to the next red light. We see every other car as an obstacle. As lost time waiting to happen.


The only way to win is to change the music. Put on a slower song. Ease back on the pedal and let them all pass you by. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. There is something very Zen about actually going 45 in a 45 and watching cars pass you. I imagine myself as a multibillionaire. Nothing to do for the day. Out cruising in my 15 year old car as a disguise so no one will know how rich I am. Look at them scurrying to their little jobs. It’s a mind trick. And if you do the math, driving an extra 6 miles an hour for 25 minutes isn’t going to save you more than 2 or 3 minutes. It’s just not worth it.


So come fellow billionaires. Let’s take our golf carts to our garages, pick out our crappy, incognito ride for the day, and head to work at a leisurely pace. And if we miss that exit? Who cares? We have all the time in the world. We’ll take the next exit because we can. And maybe, if we’re lucky, one of those peons hurrying to work won’t kill us and we’ll live to see another day.