"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The need for speed

We made it to San Antonio in near record time today, covering about 350 miles in about five and a half hours. I could have done even better than that, except for encountering road construction while going through Houston (which is a little like saying "encountering water while swimming").

I confess that I can be a bit of a lead-foot at times; many years ago, I formulated a theory which I call "The 15-mile-per-hour rule". It postulates the following:

1. Highway design engineers plan for roads to be traveled at a certain normal, safe speed, taking into consideration such things as sight distance, curve radius, road width and bank, pavement texture and smoothness, natural terrain, and a multitude of other factors;

2. Once the engineers design and build a section of road, they turn it over (along with their statistics for what normal speed of travel the road was designed for) to the policymakers who set speed limits for it;

3. Those lawmakers arbitrarily deduct 15 miles per hour from whatever figure the engineers give them. For example, if the engineers say "this road, being straight and wide with limited access, can be traveled safely by a normally competent driver at 85 miles per hour", then the lawmakers set the speed limit at 70. If the engineers tell them the road is designed for 50 mile per hour travel, they set the speed limit at 35, etc. etc. They do this because they realize that -- incredibly -- not everyone in the country is as good a driver as I am. They must compensate for those less-than-outstanding, sub-average drivers who lack my precise control ability, lightening-quick reflexes, and advanced situational awareness. For example, there might be some damn old fool who will get all flustered going at 55 miles per hour down a perfectly straight, level, dry road because he's afraid he can't control his own bowels let alone a two-ton automobile, and the powers that be better de-rate that speed limit down to 40 so a tree doesn't jump out in the middle of the road and bite his car, boy howdy!

Therefore the conclusion: since I am not only an accomplished but may I say (ahem) excellent driver, EVERY STRETCH OF ROAD, ANYWHERE IN IN THE UNITED STATES, CAN BE SAFELY (if not legally) TRAVELED AT 15 MILES PER HOUR ABOVE THE POSTED SPEED LIMIT. This is the speed that the designers of this highway -- and dare I say, God himself -- intended for me to go.

Now, I fully realize that my little theory is not going to be very persuasive when I am staring down the muzzle of a radar gun wielded by some tired state trooper, sitting in his black-and-white, just waiting to nail his last speeder of the night so he can make quota, stop for some coffee and donuts, finish his shift and go home. No siree.

The last ticket I got was nearly ten years ago, heading back to Texas from visiting relatives in Pagosa Springs Colorado. We were heading down Highway 285 out of Sante Fe, on our way to intersect I-40 at Clines Corners ("Worth Stopping For!"). If you've ever been on this piece of road, you know it's about 45 miles of perfectly smooth, level highway that cuts straight as an arrow through some pretty barren countryside. The only thing you're liable to encounter out there is a tumbleweed. So at two in the morning, with not another vehicle in sight for miles, I was proceeding at what I thought was a perfectly reasonable 80 mph, trying to make some time on the long drive home. (OK, it might have been 90. Whatever.) Suddenly, a pair of headlights topped a little rise coming at me and my radar detector simultaneously began squealing. I quickly braked down to legal speed (55? WTF?) but it was too late - I was busted, and I felt that sickening feeling of my heart jumping into my throat as he turned on his flashers, did a U and pulled me over. The nice patrolman gave me a "break" in that he only wrote the ticket for 70; if I had been tagged at more than 16 miles over the limit, the fine would have doubled. Still, as there was no way I could appear in court, that trip wound up costing an additional $140 mailed to the Great State of New Mexico after we got back.

Since then, I haven't had another ticket -- perhaps due to being more careful, maybe a little more lucky as well. I don't take as many road trips as I used to, and I've learned to slow down and enjoy the scenery a bit more too. Sure the Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, and other wildflowers along the road are pretty to look at, but then there are times like today when you just want to freakin' get there.

I did have one sort of close call on the way; we took Beltway 8, also known as the Sam Houston Tollway, around the outskirts of Houston. Coming up on the first toll plaza, traffic seemed lighter in the left hand lane, so I moved over. Suddenly I saw a sign and realized why - it was the EZ-Tag lane, but I was blocked in by traffic and couldn't move back over in time. As I whipped past the toll booth, I was sure the automated camera had snapped a photo of my license plate, and I would be getting a notice in the mail to pay a heavy fine. At the second toll plaza near our exit, however, I mentioned it to the attendant and asked if I could pay the missed toll there in order to avoid a ticket. "Is it your first time?", he asked, and when I said "yes", he laughed. "Don't worry about it, they won't bother you."

So I have learned (at least) two things today:

1. There are a certain number of "freebies" that you can get away with on toll roads within a certain period of time. The exact number and the exact time frame is probably not publicly available information.

2. Somewhere in a database on a computer at the Harris County Toll Road Authority, there is a record of my license plate number, noting its exact location at a certain time today. I have no doubt that this information would be readily available to any federal government investigator with sufficient clearance and/or reason to want to view it, say if someone thought I might be (gasp!) a suspected Toasterist Terrorist.

Don't you just love domestic surveillance?

But as I said at the beginning, we got here safe and sound (Amen!), and San Antonio is as beautiful as ever. The margaritas are, if anything, even stronger than I remember them being from our last trip, as you may be able to tell from this post. I'll have more to write about that later in the week.


  • At 4/11/2007 08:27:00 AM, Blogger jbwritergirl said…

    Hey Toast,

    Have a margarita for me while I'm out sweating in my yard.


  • At 4/11/2007 08:56:00 AM, Blogger Daisy Martin said…

    Down a margarita for me too!

    Take a swing by the Holiday Inn Riverwalk while you are there and let me know if you think it is worth the bloody $110 they are trying to charge us per night for our WWII reunion in Sept. And that was the discounted group rate!

  • At 4/13/2007 10:34:00 PM, Blogger Chandira said…

    LOL.. Yes, the speed limits here are a bit ridiculous. So re the jaywalking laws!!
    Personally, I'd leave jaywalking up to Darwin to sort out..
    You'd have loved England about 10 years ago. Since Blair got in, everything's become super-safe and pc, and observed by a million webcams there. But it used to be great to drive there, honest.


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