Screeching Halt

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My commute to and from work yesterday was amazingly relaxing and fast. It is not often that I can say that. Honestly, I had no idea that you could get from Henly to Round Rock that quickly. The return trip home was hands down the fastest commute I’ve made in months, maybe even years. So, what did I do differently?

I picked up an out-of-town colleague at the airport at 7:30 a.m. yesterday morning. After leaving Henly, the commute represented the equivalent of 40 miles in 40 minutes to get to the airport. I smiled at the long line of traffic attempting to negotiate getting onto Loop 1 going north. Had it not been for my need to go to the airport, I would have been in that quagmire of stopped traffic. MoPac simply comes to a screeching halt once you enter after existing off of Hwy 290/71.

“Screeching halt” is a fairly accurate expression of true life experiences for many commuters. Monday morning, the traffic was beyond awful. Of course, it was misting rain. Nothing moves in Austin if there is any sign of rain. At one point, during my commute to work on Monday, I passed a line of cars that had all been involved in an early morning accident. One, two, three, four, five – there were four vehicles that had all collided with the vehicle in front of them. Of course, the lead car in the caravan of five had damage to the rear of the vehicle.

As I passed the accident, I thought about one of the principals you learn in defensive driving. Leave enough distance between you and the car in front of you that you have time to react if the car in front stops suddenly. Even when stopping, ensure you can see the rear vehicle tires in front of you when you stop. It is not rocket science, but few people opt to drive that way.

Of course, I’ve been to defensive driving enough that I have the concept etched in stone in my brain. I guess that serves to substantiate that I am hard headed. Of course, my need for defensive driving has more to do with having a heavy foot that it does failing to stop.

Of course, my driving often gets a bad rap. I’m not sure how the rumor got started, but folks consistently bargain with God and are in a spirit of prayer before they get out of my vehicle. Actually, I drove the General’s car Sunday and she was less than calm or complimentary of my driving. She accused me of turning “right” in front of another vehicle. Technically, I really turned left, but she called it right.  Of course she’s right, if you wait until you can see forever to make a left turn, you’ll never get to the point that you can make a left turn. The reality is traffic only comes in a constant stream. For whatever reason, no one ever closes the barn door.

You’ve heard the expression, “All systems are go?” Well, when it comes to MoPac, all systems are stop and go. Yesterday morning I made it from my home to the airport in 40 minutes. That’s not bad for rush hour traffic. Actually, once I got through the Y and subsequent traffic lights in Oak Hill, the rest was a piece of cake. It was smooth sailing, so to speak.

I waited in the cell lot for my passenger to telephone that he had arrived. Talk about curb service, I picked him up in probably two minutes or less from the time he telephoned. Since he was flying in only for the day, he didn’t have luggage aside from his backpack. The backpack contained his computer. I am very familiar with the drill. I either carry a backpack or my brief case for the very same reason.

The colleague I was picking up works for a company I previously worked with, so we know many of the same people. I think they all would describe me as conscientious, responsible, professional and mostly fun to be around. I put the disclaimer around “fun” since sometimes I had the reputation of being too tough. I was the compliance officer for the agency. It was my job to ensure the “i”s were dotted and the “t”s were crossed.

Sometimes I was a considered a little “over the top” when it came to processing information and seeing safety issues very differently from the folks who initially made judgment calls related to appropriateness and compliance with requirements. However, when push came to shove, I don’t think I’d be the only person to question that having a tiger on the premises posed a potential threat. It wasn’t just that I had read Prince of Tides, it was more the sense that even though Exxon suggested the need “to put a tiger in your tank”, having one in the your backyard was an unacceptable risk.

I guess you could say, “We settled our differences.” When it comes to ensuring safety, you’d find me hard pressed to think a pet pit-bull sharing space with a small child was risk free. I don’t care how “absolutely loveable and well-behaved” the pit-bull happened to be. At the end of the day, the pit-bull is still a pit-bull. I obviously thought the same thing about the tiger. Actually, the example of a parent keeping the pit-bull was a friend of mine. I thought he was taking unnecessary chances with precious cargo. He thought otherwise.

Of course, you might be inclined to question my “safety focus” when it comes to driving. Leaving the airport, I headed east on Hwy 71 and then went North on IH – 130 in order to get to Round Rock. Once I entered IH-130, the posted speed limit is 80 mph. Can that really be true? I am used to averaging about 20 mph on MoPac. How can you subsequently take a parallel road and step it up to 80 mph?

I could hear the sound track to “wind beneath my sails” playing in my head as I drove north. For one thing, there was absolutely no traffic. Mine wasn’t the only vehicle on the roadway, but cars were few and far between. Other than the music in my head, it was quiet in the car. My colleague was texting something on his cell phone. I’m hopeful he wasn’t hurriedly attempting to craft his last will and testament. Even though we were driving 80 mph, I was totally alert, careful and enjoying the pace.

When our meeting broke for lunch, I had another feel good moment. Someone at the restaurant had a completely restored 1956 Bel Air Chevrolet.    I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a picture. When I started driving at the age of 14, the vehicle available for my brother and I to share was a 1956 Bel Air. Our family had purchased it new. It subsequently became my dad’s work car. It also doubled as the vehicle Ronnie and I shared.

Well, the stories I could tell! Actually, I won’t because despite the fact that confession is good for the soul, the statute of limitations related to driving too fast might not work in my favor.  I also won’t be regularly driving 80 mph to work.  It added an extra 50 miles to my already 101 mile daily commute.

All My Best!

Don

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