If I had to guess the one phrase I said the most to Michael in all our years together, it would be “slow down.” Being a Midwestern lad who started to drive when practically a fetus, Michael is at once a great driver and a speed demon. I, on the other hand, raised in midtown Manhattan, had never tried to drive until I was in my twenties and living in Connecticut.
When I first met Michael he owned a car with a stick shift. He offered to teach me to drive. After two minutes of the gears grinding and the clutch moaning, he withdrew the offer and told me to sign up at Phil’s Driving Academy in New Haven. I did. I passed the course. I still have the diploma.
Getting a diploma did not make me a great driver. The best I can say about my driving is that 1) I am still alive and 2) I have never gotten a moving violation. It is hard to get a speeding ticket if you never go over 45mph.
The way Michael drives is another story. Feeling cramped and claustrophobic in any city, Michael hits the gas pedal hard as soon as we hit the open road. 85 is his favorite number on the speedometer.
As many of us know, mixed messages are the perfect way to drive someone crazy; and as many times as I yelled “Slow down!” at him, I also whined “Are we there yet?” By the end of a long day in the car, I wanted to get out, eat something, and go to bed.
One spring day Michael and I were looking around The Amana Colonies in Iowa when we both decided to throw in the towel and go home. When Roadfooding, we rarely have a start or stop date, we just do it until we are sick of it and need a rest. Once we called it quits, Michael loved to drive “straight through,” meaning we went non-stop until we got home.
Having barely scraped by financially for so many years, we splurged when our career picked up and we bought a Mercedes Benz. Not just any Mercedes, but a brand new, black on black, top-of-the-line sedan. Later, we found out it was the identical car to the one Mafia boss John Gotti got driven around in. He was not called “The Dapper Don” for nothing.
The big Mercedes was said to feel like “a living room on wheels,” and that was true. It was so solidly constructed that it never vibrated, swerved, or rattled. For a huge, heavy sedan it was also extremely quick, designed to cruise Germany’s Autobahn at triple-digit speeds. Having become accustomed to rattletrap cars that felt like they were about to fall apart when pushed much beyond 50mph, we found it deceptive being behind the wheel of the Benz.
Michael drove at his usual fast pace through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania before we saw the “Welcome to New York State” sign. Because New York is contiguous with Connecticut, we felt we were almost home. The reality is that New York’s western tip is about 600 miles from where we lived.
Michael drove like a man possessed; and by 2am it seemed we were the only car on the Interstate. It was pitch dark, the road was empty, and the gas pedal stayed mashed to the floor.
By this point, we were both tired to the point of hallucinating. We remarked to each other about the occasional flash of red lights we saw in the rear view mirror. And now, remarkably, the mysterious flashing lights appeared again but this time they were ahead of us. We knew what they were: a police roadblock. We assumed it was so State Troopers could weed out unsavory people on the highway — an idea we liked.
Not being a criminal, I have always found roadblocks exciting. “I hope they have a bloodhound,” I said, looking forward to being sniffed by a favorite breed of dog.
Dear reader, there was not a bloodhound in sight; but there must have been a dozen squad cars and cops with flashlights surrounding us. Two uniformed men were beating on the side windows screaming “get out!” Michael and I looked at each other cluelessly. We could not imagine what the problem was. Apparently we were the unsavory people they were looking for.
In tandem we both opened our car doors. But instead of calmly stepping out of our vehicle, we fell out onto the highway, curled up like two cooked shrimp. The problem was that we had not stopped once in 500 miles and we were both asleep from the waist down. We could not feel our numb legs and we could not stand up.
We learned that the roadblock was a result of the fact that the police cars tailing us could not catch up to the Mercedes. “DO YOU KNOW HOW FAST YOU WERE GOING?!” was yelled at us repeatedly. Once we regained our ability to stand up and after the car was searched, things returned more or less to normal. Still unclear why we choose to lie curled on our sides on the road, the cops let us go with a serious lecture and a very serious speeding ticket.
Back home, Michael returned to one of his Alma Maters: the state-run driving school to which scofflaws must go if they want to keep their license. The instructor remembered Michael by name and took a look at the police report that he brought with him.
“Wow,” he said “One hundred and eighteen miles an hour. Impressive, man.” Michael took his seat and opened the familiar syllabus once again.