Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lack of Velocity

The other day I found myself stuck behind an octogenarian in a wheezing old pickup doing 45 in a 55 zone on a country highway winding through the Trap Hills of upper Michigan. For miles and miles a double yellow line prevented my passing while a backup of traffic behind us built and built.

Not so long ago I'd have felt irritation with the old guy, delaying me on my rounds through life. Time's of the essence, grandpa, I'd have said to myself. Pick up the pace, willya?

I'm sure the drivers behind me gritted their teeth, too, and for the same reason: the compelling pace of youth.

But that day I wasn't so peeved and impatient. Very likely that old guy's eyes were dimming and his reflexes were gone, and he knew it, so proceeded at a speed that felt safe to him.

Almost for the first time that was OK with me, too. It's not going to be long before I'm backing up traffic myself; my 70th birthday is creeping close, and for some time I haven't felt quite as confident driving at the limit -- let alone above it -- as I used to. (Keeping a weather eye out for suicidal deer alone causes my speedometer needle to drop by a good 5 mph.)

Last night I reached a passage in David Mitchell's brilliant 2004 novel Cloud Atlas that summed up the incident perfectly:

"Oh, once you've been initiated into the Elderly, the world doesn't want you back." Veronica settled herself in a rattan chair and adjusted her hat just so. "We -- by whom I mean anyone over sixty -- commit two offenses just by existing. One is our Lack of Velocity. We drive too slowly walk too slowly talk too slowly. The world will do business with dictators, perverts, and drug barons of all stripes, but being slowed down it cannot abide. Our second offence is being Everyman's memento mori. The world can only get comfy in shiny-eyed denial if we are out of sight."

So it goes, as Vonnegut often said, in his inimitably stoic way. So it goes.

* * *

Here's a nice Mention in Dispatches.


  1. As a fairly new member of the Lack of Velocity cohort myself, I applaud this post, Henry. Now you need to write about Slow Food, which always tastes much better than Fast Food.

  2. Whoa, not so fast. Where did you find both trap hills and traffic up there?

  3. It was on M26 east of Greenland. Six cars bunched up behind me. That's traffic for M26, isn't it? And those hills are the Trap Hills, aren't they?

  4. That is and they are :-)

  5. we forget the public highways are for the public and that public means everybody, not just the 55 cum 75 mph folks