The Rush Hour Rally
Almost everyone commutes to and from work these days, and almost everyone uses the same individual route each day. The only changes are weather, time of day, and degree of congestion by each separate day of the week. This can get dreary over time, and most people retreat to the mindless solace of an infotainment system in their car or (worse, to my mind) on their motorcycle.
I have a different way to approach this.
Route decisions: One of the first essays I was ever paid for was called “Flow Theory,” and it appeared in an issue of American Motorcyclist in June of 1986. It centered on my then summer commute by motorcycle to Pioneer Square in Seattle from our home in Bothell, and dealt with analysis of traffic flow patterns on the freeway before and after entrances and exits, etc. This was before the invention of HOV lanes that allowed motorcycles, soon to become a reality due to a rider on a transportation bill signed by President Reagan, although it is debatable whether or not he knew it was there. One of his few actions I agreed with, but I digress…
The basic elements remain, although traffic has changed for the more complex, and I now commute at least 5 days a week in one of two cars or on whatever motorcycle I am using at the time. I have been traveling the same route for over two years, and each day I add more data to the mental banks about traffic density by the day, which lane will work best for each segment, where the bus stops are, etc. In so doing I am keeping my mind engaged in the task of operating the vehicle, and would that more people did!
The research continues, but currently it seems to me that Tuesday and Thursday are the most congested, and Friday and Saturday the easiest. This data is skewed because Monday is almost always a day off, and on Friday I go to work at 7am to let the cleaning crew in, early enough for the morning jam to have only just begun to ferment. On Saturday there is no rush hour, so it is really a separate reality.
The installation of tolls on the Evergreen Bridge this year has created a new area of research as the masses determine whether they wish to use mass transit, pay for a quicker commute across the bridge, or join the slavering horde using “my” route around the north end of Lake Washington. My feeling is that this open air decision process is not yet complete, but it has brought to me a new “short cut” that is actually longer, but was saving several minutes a day until recently. I suspect the newbies have discovered it. There really are not that many optional routes left.
I have recently added a new game to my routine, and it involves a “race.” Not a race of speed and horsepower, but a race based on my progress compared to another vehicle I choose as my “opponent.” It does not work all that well on the way to work, as my chosen rival will turn off at random to his or her destination, but on the way home everyone seems to be in accord that the goal is from Seattle to somewhere near or past Bothell.
Who to “race”? I try to pick out a distinctive vehicle that can be easily spotted and then use my selection of lanes to attempt to catch and then pass the opponent. Speeding and reckless lane changes are verboten – I must compete only with my wits. Of course, the opponent does not know we are playing, and is probably merely driving home while listening to a CD of Yoko Ono hits or whatever. (Are there Yoko Ono “hits”?).
I started to play the game when in my car. On a motorcycle I have enough going on to keep my brain engaged – like attempting not to be “it” in a game of tag with 6,000 pound behemoths being sort of steered by people who are otherwise occupied. In addition, the motorcycle usually will win easily due to better visibility, agility, and acceleration. Last, until this week when spring may have occurred in Seattle, another motorcycle was pretty rare. More on that in a few paragraphs.
This week things ramped up when I competed with the same car two days in a row, a tasty all black Mercedes Benz SL 55 AMG, Here is a car that is certainly easy to spot, standing out from the dull drones around it as a menacing beetle-backed shaped with two chrome oval exhaust tips.
Even better, I’ve driven one of these for a couple of laps at speed around Pacific Raceways, so I have an idea of what it is like. I pleased myself mightily on that occasion by really not liking a near 100k car I could never afford. It was too big and too heavy and had so many computer nanny state stability, steering, and other controls that it would take a concerted effort to get in trouble. Not for me, but an impressive pile of engineering any way you look at it.
My cars for these two games were our Fiat 500 Sport and our Honda CR-V. The two of them added together have less horsepower than the Mercedes, not to mention handling and braking capability disparities.
The odds of meeting the same car on the same route in the same week must be slim, as I do not leave work at the same time every day. The time varies from 3:30pm to after 6pm in a “normal” week, nor can I prove it was the same car, but really, how many black AMG SL 55 couples are you likely to run across on the daily commute?
Besides, it really makes no difference. Each day I noticed the SL up ahead, and each day I tracked our progress as we each made decisions of when to switch lanes based on traffic flow, where buses were in their own lane and where they were about to barge into “ours,” the presence of cement trucks and people choosing to drive at a snail’s pace, etc. In both cases I gradually caught up to the SL and eventually passed it as my choices proved to be better than his or hers. Again, the other person did not know we were competing, and may have been distracted by listening to the Seattle Mariners blow another game.
The next day I added motorcycles to the competition for the first time. I was riding my BMW F 800R and was sort of stuck behind a woman in a Toyota who was doing nothing wrong. She accelerated at a leisurely pace, and there seemed to always be traffic on the right, so I was just loafing. After all, we were making progress. A fellow was tailing me on a Harley-Davidson Road King, and all was calm. Eventually, an opening appeared in the right lane and I moved over to sashay around her, because I could, and because I was riding a motorcycle after all. Up ahead a car turned into the lane and again I was sort of stuck. There was a small gap and the Harley sped up and passed me on the left, and then a quick right and then left in front of the Toyota and a fairly hefty application of brakes to stop for a red light, Nothing dangerous or foolhardy, but I felt he had broken the rules of my game – the rules of a game he did not know he was playing. His manuever had involved too much speed for the situation and required too hefty an application of brakes to be “fair.” As the light turned green he sped ahead and I bided my time and scanned the horizon for opportunities. Looked like I would lose for once but no! My opponent made a severe error at 145th, where the traffic often blocks up in the left lane. It was Saturday, and on other days when the herd of buses is grazing down Lake City Way it is the right lane that stops, which usually triggers a turn from me onto my short cut. With no buses I was free to cruise on by and actually gapped him severely at the next two lights. I win!
Saturday afternoon another game commenced, this time with a BMW behind me, an R 1200 RT. He made several deft lane changes, whereas my choices were not optimal. He got a long way ahead, and by all rights had a clear victory, but a couple of fluke aberrations in traffic flow allowed me to seize victory from certain defeat.
I ended the week with a perfect 4-0 record for my new game, but over time I am sure the losses will come. Makes no difference. My mind is engaged, I am thinking, and it is fun. Better yet, my commute goes so much faster, and best of all, it is safer.
Who can you defeat today?
David Preston Copyright 2012