Life is better in the slow lane

The start of another school year seems an opportune time to introduce an idea I’ve been kicking around for awhile now. It’s more than an idea, really. It’s a way of life. With a little luck, it may even become a movement — a very slow movement.

I call it “slow motoring.”

The concept is simple: drive slowly. Drive at or near the speed limit at all times. Drive like a grandma. Or a gangsta. Or a grandma in a pimped-out Caddy, who may or may not have mob ties, but you don’t want to beep and find out.

In practice, this can be difficult. There’s a lot of peer pressure on the roads to break the law and be a speed freak. You must resist this pressure. Ignore the tailgaters and the honkers (turn up the funk and flip your rearview mirror to dim as necessary). Don’t worry about the angry strangers behind you. Pity them, instead, for they have yet to attain the enlightenment that will free them from their anxiety — a stress that may or may not shorten their journey, but will surely shorten their lives.

That’s one of the many benefits of slow motoring. It keeps your blood pressure in check. It’s good for your heart and mind. Our modern lives are hectic enough, what with all the devices vying for our attention, the bills and deadlines and bad news coming in from every corner of the globe. Inside the glass-and-metal bubble of our own vehicles, we’re given a golden opportunity to chill out. Take it.

I’m certainly not the only one advocating for this. In Portland’s Back Cove neighborhood and along the stretch of road connecting Kennebunk to Kennebunkport — to cite just a couple examples — there are more lawn signs urging drivers to slow down than signs promoting politicians and house painters. In downtown Portland, traffic engineers have embraced this idea by programming several stop lights along Congress Street to perpetually blink yellow. There’s no need to gun it to make the green. Just go with the flow. The new system works beautifully.

Maine officials in charge of the Turnpike and interstates took a step in the other direction earlier this summer, raising speed limits in southern Maine as high as 70 miles per hour. But that’s fine, too. It’s a welcome acknowledgment of the pace most motorists were already traveling on these long straightaways. Sure, some drivers will still push 80 or higher, but that is not your concern. Stay in the right lane and let them have the left. The troopers and (tragically) moose will thin their ranks in due time.

Slow motoring has a lot in common with Zen Buddhism. It encourages you to live in the moment, breathe easy, appreciate the world around you, not focus on some future time and worry about situations beyond your control. After all, it’s so often the case that the seconds and minutes you think you’re saving by speeding get eaten up by unexpected traffic back-ups, accidents, construction, etc. Or you rush to the store only to be delayed by a slowpoke at the check-out. Time cannot be saved, Grasshopper, only spent.

Kids have been given the wrong message about speeding — or, rather, it’s been presented to them in the wrong way, using the argument that it’s unsafe. Speeding can be unsafe, but it’s much more persuasive to make the point that it’s uncool. To wit: Justin Bieber speeds; Snoop Dogg just rolls. Ask your teenage son which celebrity he’d rather emulate.

I could go on. Slow motoring is better for your car, easier on the engine and tires. It’s better for the environment, keeps money out of the pockets of bad actors in the Middle East, and helps make the apocalypse-inducing Keystone XL pipeline unnecessary. It’ll save you money on gas and tickets and higher insurance premiums. And it just might save your life, or somebody else’s life, or a dog’s, or a bird’s, or a butterfly’s.

Join the slow-motoring movement today, because it’s never too late to stop worrying about being late.

Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.