Living Life in the Fast Lane

People in South Georgia give me the “side-eye” when I tell them I am moving to Atlanta.

“The traffic up there is terrible,” they somberly inform me with an are-you-out-of-your-mind kind of look.

“Oh, really!” the bubble of sarcasm above my head says, “I hadn’t noticed.”

What I actually say is, “I know that, but since I will be retired, I don’t much care.”

When I drove the mule-drawn wagon on a quail hunting plantation, I was reminded of the slow pace of the lives of our ancestors. I wondered what it would be like for me to drive to work every morning on my wagon. I wouldn’t need to worry about traffic jams or speed traps.

My mules pulled an old-fashioned wagon with a heavy wooden body and tall, spoked (albeit rubber-tired) wheels. It was not a stretch to imagine a time when this type of transportation was the norm. My 200-mile, three-hour drive to Atlanta, according to Google maps, would take more than two days on a wagon. Image needing to stop at the Motel 6 halfway to Atlanta!

At the end of every hunt, we had a fifteen- or twenty-minute ride back to the house. The pointers were back in the wagon and the retriever was lying on the seat beside me as I followed the horse riders. The only sound was the jingle of the mule harnesses, the conversation of the guests, and the occasional bobwhite quail whistling in the tall grass. The pace was slow enough for a person to walk but I never heard a guest complain about the length of our ride. In fact, people often remarked on how peaceful it was and how they could feel their blood pressure going down—a sensation that is unlikely when we travel today.

We drive to Atlanta twice a month to work on the new house. It is a pleasant drive up highway 280 to Columbus where we get on I-185 then I-85 and on to Atlanta. It is usually smooth sailing until we get near our destination, because the closer we get to Atlanta the faster people drive. We are bumper to bumper by the time we get on the I-285 beltway, and I struggle to keep up with the dense traffic. Even going more than 70 MPH, cars pass me like I am standing still. They cut across multiple lanes of traffic, weave between speeding cars and trucks, and dart in front of me to get to the nearest exit. On my last trip, I saw a car drive along the right-hand emergency pull-off lane to pass multiple cars who weren’t going fast enough. What, I wonder, is the hurry?

There are only two things that might make a driver slow down. One is when eight lanes of traffic comes to a complete stop. The other I see on those rare occasions when I am going fast enough to pass someone. Invariably they are not watching the road. They have one hand on the wheel and their eyes glued to a cell phone as they drift from lane to lane.

Now, I like to drive fast. That is why I usually set my cruise control when I am on the open road. Otherwise I will find myself driving over the speed limit when I round the bend and see that highway patrol vehicle parked in the median. But there is no cruise-control on the Atlanta freeways. You are either going way too slow in the middle lane or thrust into the slipstream of cars and trucks with your hands at ten and two on the steering wheel, your speedometer in the mid-80s, and your heart thumping in your chest.

And then there are the fools who drive too fast for conditions. One recent Sunday morning, I was on the Stone Mountain Freeway on my way to have a tire repaired. It was raining and I was driving on the spare tire. I struggled along at 55 MPH so, as usual, cars were passing me right and left. Suddenly there was a white work van passing me on my left—but it was traveling backwards. I did a double take as the van slowed down and faded from view. I glanced in my rearview mirror. Somebody must have hydroplaned because cars were spinning out on the rain-slick road behind me. A car veered into the median and another careened off the road to the right as the white van came to a stop in the middle of the highway.

As I viewed the chaos behind me, I slowed a little and relaxed in my seat. For the moment I was alone on the road, so I turned up the radio and recalled my time on the wagon when the mules were in harness, a dog rested on my lap, and life was moving at a peaceful pace. In the blink of an eye, I had gone from adrenaline-fueled stress on the roadway to absolute calm. Welcome to life in the big city.  

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