A couple of decades ago, I lived in Vidalia, Georgia, which I still consider, in my most humble experience, to be the end of the world where all good things fall off the edge. I was racing bicycles at the time and out for a training ride. I didn’t see the vehicle but I could hear the whirring of huge tires coming up behind me. Before the truck whizzed past me at eighty or so, I saw a beer bottle fly past my head. An instant later the truck drove by honking with the passenger flipping me off out the window with both hands. Ha! What’s the big deal about trying to peg a bike rider with a beer bottle while moving at eighty miles an hour? Had that bottle hit me in the head it’s unlikely that I would be writing today and they would have sped off, happy in making the world a better place. I suppose it could have been the Lycra – not a fabric of choice for Southern backwoods good ol’ boys – but I suspect it was just their stupidity and common disregard for any other human being. No doubt the were on the way to the local militia meeting to protect my rights.
I live in South Carolina now by way of Seattle and New York and have taken up running. I haven’t put my finger on it but South Carolina seems a world away from South Georgia though I still periodically fear for my life while running. One problem is that there is simply no side-of-the-road. I can’t really blame anyone for this. There is scant municipal or state money in these parts and, well, roads are for cars and tractors. Not runners or bicyclists or other foreigners. This puts me smack on the asphalt whenever any vehicle comes up. From this vantage I have made several very unscientific observations based on poor vision through the windshield and on vehicle type:
- The more banged up the vehicle is the more generally polite the drivers are. They slow down, move over, wave, and smile. Maybe give me a thumbs-up. I like to think that these are just more humble folks who don’t equate their vehicle with their self-image or personal worth but I can’t say. At least that’s what I tell myself while I cruise at ten under in my 1995 Toyota Wagon held together by rust and decals.
- Young women driving normal sized cars are generally accommodating. Probably not a surprise in the genteel South. They smile, move over, and wave. No doubt impressed by my flexing quads.
- Women driving SUVs? It’s a crapshoot. If the car is empty, meaning that the kids are in school and they are coffeed up, and if they are not looking down, then they happily move over. If not, and I believe that this is generally without malicious intent, they ignore you and would hardly notice if they bumped you off.
- Black Mercedes with tinted windows? I just move off the road when I see these. I don’t know who drives these things but the road belongs to them and they’re not up for questions. They go fast and never move over.
- Trucks of any sort call for heightened awareness. Most move over but never slow down.
You can guess what vehicle bothers me the most. The drivers look like they are stunt doubles on Duck Dynasty. They need a ladder to get into the truck. I would like to think that the steering in the truck is a little loose because I find it hard to believe that they would purposefully swerve toward me just for the fun of it but without a mechanical inspection I can’t be sure. They never slow. They never move. Never give one rat’s ass as far as I can tell. I think they might have a running man with an ‘X’ through him stamped on the driver’s door for each hapless sap they bump off.
I’ve noticed that ‘slowing down’ is a weird thing. Most folks here do the Carolina 35 which is code for going as fast as you can whatever the posted speed limit. The problem with slowing down is that you have to slow down. No South Carolinian of any gender or label slows down. Slowing down in South Carolina implies a compilation of untoward character traits:
• You cry a lot and wear skinny jeans
• You have balls the size of freezer-burnt peas
• You are gay (and yes, there is something wrong with that…)
• If you even go to church you probably go the that weird Universalist place
• You will save the life of one whale or seal and let an entire state go to waste
• You believe in global warming
No red-blooded Southerner would voluntarily put themselves in such an awkward social position.
Only one time have I ever had anyone stop. It was an early morning run and a truck – huge, blue-black, ominous – swerved toward me at four times the speed limit. I jumped into the ditch waving my arms and inventing swear words. He slammed on the brakes and jammed that thing in reverse so hard I thought he busted the transmission. My life flashed before my eyes. I scanned the fields for the best place to try to outrun a bullet or a dog. He came up with windows down practically crying out an apology. The sun – I admitted it was huge and bright – was in his eyes and he truly didn’t see me. I waved him on, not wanting to prolong our little meeting (I hadn’t paused my run timer!) and was thankful for another day to run.