The other day I was stuck behind a Ford Excursion that was going even slower
than I, in my full-blown maturity, usually drive. Sometimes when I feel the need
to project a tad more aggressive image, I put on my bushy black wig and sit on
my booster cushion. But in this instance, because the rear window of the SUV was
so dark and so forbidding, so wholly disguising what kind of person, or people,
or scary things it was transporting, I made no effort to fool anyone or to hide
my trademark geniality.
Iíd read that the marketing strategy for SUVs is to project an image of
intimidation ... of mastery of every road situation that could possibly arise. I
believe the strategy works. If I didnít see actual drivers of SUVs when they get
out of their modified trucks, Iíd think SUV owners were a whole new offshoot of
Homo sapien. But they arenít. They-R-us. Good and bad. Pleasant and snarly.
Honest and dishonest. Rich and richer.
So I stayed patiently behind that 6-foot-8-by-6-foot-8 wall paradoxically
painted environmental green, thinking these SUV thoughts, waiting patiently
until I could see far enough ahead to pass. I figured this driver was simply
trying to save gasóthatís what I do since gas is closer to costing what it
should cost and probably soon will. Iíd read that the Excursion averages 12 to
14 miles per gallon and even before I started to drive as if gas-is-gold, I
averaged 26 to 27 miles per gallon in my Toyota Corolla. Now that I drive as if
my gas line is an IV drip, not a fire hose, I get 32 to 33 mpg. Truly.
I do love to get 32-33 mpg. My record is 36 back in August when the engine
was warm even before I turned the key and I didnít waste a drop starting. I felt
smug about the money I was saving, but what I wanted to feel was morally
superior. And that day putzing along behind that SUV, the moral hook I yearned
for came like a revelation. HOSANNA! Iíd credit my extra five miles a gallon to
a needy SUV. Iíd save the money and the SUV can boast a whopping 17 to 19 miles
per gallon. I had a particular SUV in mind for my credits, one I see at the post
office several times a week, an almost handsome hulk I wouldnít mind being
caught dead in if it got decent mileage.
My excitement grew. Just think, I thought, all of us non-SUV drivers can
increase our mileage five miles a gallon and credit those miles to needy SUVís.
We can set up an accountócall it "The Blaine County SUV Credit Fund." How
uniquely patriotic. If we start the credit fund here in our little valley, I
donít see how weíll miss being featured on Peter Jennings some night. Then just
watch the Credit Fund for SUVs catch on all over the country. Except for maybe
I can tell you all kinds of tricks to increase your gasoline mileage, but one
is paramount. It makes all the difference. Think of it as a commandment: "Drive
as if you have no brakes." I guarantee that if you do nothing more than this
your mileage average will soar. And no-brake driving offers the perfect sound
bite for Peter Jennings news too: "Theyíre driving brakeless in Blaine."
Neighbors, weíre headed for our 15 minutes of fame.
No-brake driving isnít easy. Think about it: All that planning way ahead for
every stop sign and every weird thing other drivers might do isnít fun until
youíre skilled. As Alan Greenspan might express it, becoming a skilled no-brake
driver takes exuberant patience. Even more than exuberant patience, it takes
steadfast courageócourage to stay patriotic and keep your foot off the gas and
keep on coasting when youíre still half a block away from a stop sign and the
yahoo behind you is climbing up your exhaust pipe and making obscene gestures
clearly visible in your rear view mirror. Thereíll be times when youíll be
tempted to nudge the gasóbut if you do youíll waste half a cup, maybe moreógas
wasted solely to keep that tailgater from a case of road rage. But steadfastness
is its own reward, and true patriotism canít be turned on and off.
My job requires that I drive from Ketchum to Hailey every Thursday morning,
and itís an exquisite thrill when I can drive all 12 miles without braking. Yes,
I need lots of luck with traffic and lightsóbut good luck happens. Twice Iíve
made it to my destination at the Courthouse and eased into a diagonal parking
spot without touching the brakes from where I turned onto the highway south of
Ketchum until ignition off in Hailey. I wouldnít have to brake turning onto the
highway if there was a "yield" sign instead of a "stop" sign there. And it
should be yield. Thereís little southbound traffic in the morning; a yield would
still put the onus on me to neither cream nor be creamed. There are stop signs
all over town that should be changed to yield. Add up all the gas saved at the
end of a year and itíll fill a tanker.
Youíll feel great about saving up gas credits for SUVs. The only downside
Iíve found is that once you become a no-brake driver, when you see a brake light
flash and know that driver is squandering gas, it makes you cringe. Itís painful
to see how many flashers there are: heavy-footed drivers quick-stepping from
pedal to brake. We must learn to think of our gas tanks as toilets. Then weíll
know that when our brake lights flash, weíre flushing.