The Left Lane
Sometimes the present is the bird of prey: on the long morning highway towards work, I see half a mile ahead of me a steady migration of cars from the left lane to the right. This often happens when a driver becomes preoccupied with something other than driving; there’s an equation somewhere for this coefficient of attention and the resulting diminished pressure on the one’s acceleration across this moment of paved lane, and the next thing you know there are cars streaming by to the right, some drivers keeping their eyes straight ahead knowing that they are breaking road protocol by passing on the right, some pausing to stare at the offending driver before gunning past them. Because on a two-lane road winding through the foothills and with as many trucks as vultures settling on the occasional and equally inattentive deer, such behavior is considered rude and is answered in kind, namely by this stream of cars passing on the right while the offender is trapped in the wrong lane, unable to adjust their location to the speed they are going, while a long line of angry and virtually late commuters drifts by. Because to the one being passed, it’s not like someone going eighty miles an hour, it’s like people walking by you who are simply walking faster than you and have no idea why you are walking so slowly. It takes time to be passed when trapped in the left lane. This morning (though who knows what morning it will be when you read this, maybe one in which you have sped by someone yourself) I follow my basic rules of the road—never be the fastest or slowest on the road, never give the person behind you a chance to ruin your day, never do the same the person in front of you. From the left lane I stay in queue and glide into the right lane behind the car ahead of me, and pass this slow car like every other vehicle is doing. In that comfortable slipstream I glance back into my side rear-view and for just an instant see the distraught expression of the driver—she is old, she is driving a little over the speed limit, she is caught in this pocket of wrong lane by things happening too fast for her to keep up with, and by people who will not let her move over. She’s not doing anything wrong! All this I read in a half-second’s reflection through a windshield coated with morning sun’s glare. I feel like it is her mind that is glaring off the windshield, not the sun. It is blinding in its clarity. I want to take my foot off the pedal, let her pass me and take up a position back in the left lane, behind her car, to shield her from the assault of everyone trying to get to the future faster. Is this not the trip my own mother takes each day, alone in a vessel already traveling too fast but not fast enough to catch up to the past or avoid the future? But it’s too late, the driver in a pickup truck behind me is already pushing me forward, and the car behind him, so I tap on the pedal to speed up further, and when I look back again the windshield is dark in the diminishing image in my mirror. And I’m no mind-reader; I’m just another driver passing by, part of the unremitting assault of the present.