Welcome to Denver, the worst place in these United States for people who drive under the speed limit in the fast lane.
Do I have any proof that this problem crops up more often in the Mile High City than anywhere else in America? Of course not. But I've driven in dozens of metro areas in more than half the states in the country over a period of decades, and I've never experienced this incredibly irritating phenomenon in other spots at anything like the rate I see it right here at home.
Why? One big reason is beauty. Yes, beauty.
Sure, the things that distract drivers in metro Denver most often are readily available elsewhere. It's not like we have a monopoly on smartphones with screens so bright and shiny and colorful that users mesmerized by them forget their right foot is still supposed to press down on the gas pedal every once in a while. And neither is D-Town the only place where commuters think the fast lane is an appropriate place to eat food that takes two hands to hold when only one is available, or to apply makeup that will probably leave them looking like the protagonist of Stephen King's It, or to brush their teeth without working out where they're going to spit.
Unlike most cities, though, Denver has an abundant supply of lovely things to see as drivers go speeding (or not speeding) past. Usually, our gorgeous scenery is a blessing. But thanks to a special brand of fast-lane moron, it can also be a curse.
Case in point: The other day, I was driving eastbound on C-470 along the foothills when I suddenly zoomed up behind a guy going about 50 in the fast lane — because, I soon discovered, he was entranced by the sight of a water skier on one of the Soda Lakes, which are visible from the highway. Apparently, it was the first time he realized that someone other than Jesus could travel across water while standing upright outside a boat. But it definitely wasn't a religious experience for me.
Granted, Colorado roadside attractions don't have to be jaw-droppingly astonishing (a pristine waterfall, a herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, a majestic canyon, a nudist with a flat) to cause freeway problems. In an October 1999 media column headlined "Hammer Time," former Denver-area traffic reporter Sam Hammer said, "Plant a new bush on the highway and people will slow down and go, 'Look, Martha, a new bush.'" And while Hammer was subsequently arrested (and convicted) (and sentenced to eight years behind bars) for requesting explicit Polaroids from what he thought was a fourteen-year-old girl he tried to impress by sending a clip of his Westword profile (eeeesh!), he was right.
About that. But not about anything else.
Another contributor to fast-lane obstructionism is Colorado's strong anti-authoritarian streak, which often gets twisted behind the wheel. Here in the West, plenty of folks don't like it when people tell them what to do — and for the most part, that's great. But they take things too far when they decide that they should have the freedom to drive at whatever speed they'd like even in the lane set aside for those who want to get to their destinations as quickly as possible — and they view anyone behind them who doesn't like it as infringing on their rights.
Instead of moving over under such circumstances, these asshats disregard the cars stacking up behind them and sometimes even decelerate to send the message that they're going to drive at whatever speed they want, damn it. And stay off my lawn!
The results are the same when the driver is elderly and terrified or elderly and angry about all those millennials who seem to be in such a rush. In the latter case, they tend to travel at precisely the marked limit as a way of sending a message that they're obeying the law and anyone who doesn't like it can go straight to the hoosgow — or hell, depending on which is more convenient.
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And then there are semis that move into the fast lane to pass another truck, only to encounter a hill that causes them to lose all their steam. Or buses from out of state whose drivers don't know how to handle the terrain. Or vans full of kids whose parent-driver is paying more attention to their shenanigans than to the road. Or a hundred other examples I'd offer if I didn't fear doing so would make my brain explode.
Whatever their reasons for dragging anchor, travelers who betray the fast lane's name are flat-out dangerous to themselves and others, since drivers who feel frustrated at being stuck behind them may make risky lane changes in a desperate attempt to put them in their rearview mirror forever. But even when this kind of behavior doesn't lead to screeching brakes and crunching metal, it's totally unacceptable, especially at a time when traffic is getting more and more congested.
Ever hear the phrase "Slower traffic, keep right"? It's a classic — and following it doesn't hurt you fast-lane fools one bit. No one's telling you to drive so fast that you don't feel safe. Drive at whatever speed you'd like. But do it in a different lane — preferably one occupied by snail-like people like you. Or stick to surface streets, where you can go even slower. Or leave the car in the garage and take a nice, leisurely stroll in a park, where you can stop and smell the roses (or look at that new bush) for as long as you'd like.
But get out of the fast lane. And stay out.