A Different Speed

I’ve been thinking about speeding and thinking about writing about speeding for a long time. I get that it’s kind of a strange thing to think about speeding – it’s more something we DO, than something we think about, but if you haven’t gathered this about me already, I think a lot. To a fault, for sure. I wonder what that says about me that I find over-analyzing fun? 

Anyway, the reason I’ve thought a lot about speeding is because just over five years ago, I moved to this lovely city of Austin. Where weird is good, where gluten-free is the norm, and where people drive really fucking slow. I can be a little weird – that’s certainly relative. I DO eat gluten (gasp!), though I know enough about food and health-food lingo to be accepted. But the driving? I immediately wanted to write about it because I found it so frustrating – but that just seemed darn-right rude. Move to a city and then publicly criticize most of the drivers? Who does that? So, instead, I’ve just been thinking about it for five years. And in the last month, I’ve officially forked over $410 in speeding fines for 2 tickets (I had another one at the beginning of the year for which I forked out another $200 and 6 hours of time for a defensive driving course), so this issue has come to a head. Specifically, I’ve had to admit that maybe I have a problem (deep breath, still kind of hard to write). 

First, let me explain the backdrop on my belief about speeding. I think everyone is wired, like in a biological way, on a few key aspects in life and so it’s very hard to go against these things. I have developed this theory because I am a person who is wired one way, but grew up in another way. For example: Climate preference. I am wired to live in HOT climates – 85 degrees is my sweet spot, I am cold in anything less than 70 degrees and I think anything below 50 is absolutely intolerable. The astonishing thing to most people is that I grew up in Wisconsin. It was 23 years of seasonal hell. Sure, I appreciate the beauty of the first snow-fall and crisp, cold sunny days where the snow crunches under one’s boots, but you better believe that on the finest of winter days, I am wearing at least 5 layers and honestly, I just don’t think one needs to live where one feels the need to be is so heavily protected. 

I also think the wiring comes into play in the big city/small town choice. Linked, clearly, to the central nervous system, I think people are wired for the lively energy, loud buzz and constant magnificent moving machinery of a big city OR the slow-pace simplicity of a small town. I’m a big-city gal and I grew up in a town of miniscule population (3,000 people). I remember my first trip to Chicago when I was in middle-school. I went with a friend who had cousins that lived in the suburbs. We all went into the city for the day and I was speechless from the beauty of the skyscrapers, the sophistication of the inhabitants and the abundance of things to DO there. I felt at home. 

All of this is to say that I think how fast (or slow) one drives is a hard-wired attribute as well. The climate gene, the urban gene and the speed gene. Perhaps not identified yet, but I’m pretty sure they exist. I say this because I think there is a certain speed that everyone is just comfortable driving at and I’ve been, in the past, an advocate of people driving at the speed they are comfortable at, EVEN (deep breath) if that means they drive below the speed limit. While this drives me nuts when I’m behind these people, if I think about it, I don’t want them to speed up if they don’t think they can handle driving at the speed limit. I MIGHT be inclined to make the argument that the speed limit be sort of a barometer for whom we let on the streets,  but as my clearly slow-driving neighbor argued, it is a speed LIMIT and not a speed minimum. Hmmmm. Yes. Semantics will get me every time. Not to mention I have a harder time making the opposite argument because there certainly is something like ‘excessive speeding’, which of course, no speeder thinks they do, present company included. 

On my first draft of this post, this was the section where I was going to justify my speeding. I felt it was part of getting to acceptance of the problem. I was right on that, but much to your benefit, I have been talking about all of this among friends, and I’ve realized that my arguments sound pretty ridiculous when voiced out loud. My whole ‘drive at your comfort level’ argument really sounded obnoxious when I presented that one in front of my book club – 12 highly intelligent women who all presumably like me a little bit on some level – but who were happy to put me in my place. That was like a sweat-lodge: I had to purge a lot of beliefs and notions I had about it as I ranted like a crazy person. The book for that month was “In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.” In all other areas, I agreed with the author, I still wasn’t with him (yet) on the speeding.

There were actually other speeders in that group, and over the last 6 weeks (since court) I’ve bonded with others and we all concur on one point: we are APPROPRIATE speeders. I really want to cling to this idea because I really think I AM an appropriate speeder, but I do recognize that enforcing ‘appropriate speeding’ is a little trickier. And so when I finally dropped that argument, and with countless hours of scoul scraping (it’s been painful) this is where I got to with staying within speed limits: I don’t like people to tell me what to do. I’m not sure anyone does, but speed limits, in particular, seem a tad arbitrary – where I’ve been picked up twice, the speed limit changes from 30 to 35 within blocks of each other and it’s actually faster downtown, which makes no sense to me. It really bugs ME to follow rules that don’t make sense to ME – because I am so important. Or so my ego believes. Interestingly, I ask my children to do this every day. I can reason that my rules make sense (I am not a strict mom by any means), and they DO to an adult, but to my children? Not always. So, the speed limits are arbitrary to me. To a police officer? To the judge? The people who actually matter here? Not so much. It’s pretty simple. It’s their rule. Follow it. 

While following arbitrary rules is slightly painful, it’s more painful for me to be paying these exorbitant ticket prices (in TX, you can pay more money to avoid it going on your record, an injustice for sure, but one that has been working out for me), so I have been working on re-wiring. That’s right. Just because I believe we have the climate gene, the urban gene and the speed gene, doesn’t mean I believe we can’t live another way. San Francisco, for example is the town closest to my heart, but it is arguably downright chilly for much of the year. I know plenty of people who prefer small towns, but live in big ones and vice versa. No one DIES from this. And then there’s this big one: As a Buddhist, it does seem a tiny bit contradictory to insinuate that happiness is tied, even in the slightest, to our external circumstances or constraints. And in fact, this is much what a spiritual path is about: re-wiring our habits and thoughts that create our unhappiness. It just took an interceding party (the police) to make me unhappy about speeding, otherwise, it suited me just fine. It takes an interceding party (the police) to keep people from doing lots of things that suit THEM just fine. Yes, I get it. 

Back to the night of book club, a self-proclaimed slow-driver (she told me she uses her cruise to ensure she stays at the speed limit when I told her I was having to use mine a lot to stay at it) and I were arguing back and forth about speed limits and she kept saying, “it’s fast enough”…”that area? 30 miles per hour is fast enough”, “65 is more than fast enough on a highway through town”, etc. etc. Her words were like a slow-working esthetician, annoying and painful. However, as I’ve been working on the re-wiring, staying conscious of my speed at ALL times (I took an oath in court to not be picked up again within 6 months, so paranoia has been high), using my cruise control in particularly challenging areas, I keep hearing her words in my head. I know the re-wiring is working because lately I’ve been answering her, even as other drivers speed past me, saying yes, it is. It wasn’t that I was in a hurry before, it’s just that I was just trying to get everywhere faster; going my own speed. But I live in Austin now. It’s a small-ish town, relatively speaking from where I and so many people who have moved here come from, and it’s a great place to be. And yes, it is, indeed, fast enough.

pretty sneaky, sis

Little sister (3) has been watching her big brother (almost 6) learn to read and sound out words. The other night she asked me to come over and ‘help her with some of the words.’ I obliged, of course. It was a Read-and-Seek book, and this page had pictures of some of the items in the book with the words next to them. 

She pointed to the first one, “B (b-sound) –  Air –  Bear.” She looked at me for my approval. Since there was a picture of a bear right next to it, I wasn’t all that impressed, but entertained that she was doing this ‘sounding out’ routine, so she was encouraged.

Next picture, “B (b-sound) –  Ell –  Bell.” I nodded, but she didn’t care what I was thinking anymore, she was just impressed with herself. 

Next picture, “B (b-sound) –  Ike –  Bike.” Ok. My curiosity was tweaked. That could have been one of several words next to the bike. It could have been bicycle….

She noticed me sit up and really pay attention. She proudly pointed to the next picture,

“S –  wan –  Swan.”

uh-oh, busted. The word was bird, but I most certainly applauded her effort (and in her defense, who puts bird next to a picture of a swan? You use every-day birds like swallows or finches for that, not swans! geesh.) And I’ve enjoyed the recurring chuckle every time I think back. so great.