16 October, 2021

Gimbling in the Wabe – The Art of Going Slow

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.

Viggo Mortensen

Ok, I’ll admit it.  This has been a crappy winter.  Not the depth of the cold, necessarily, but the winter drivingduration of it.  Not the amount of snow, but the timing of it, and how it seems to linger in impact.  There doesn’t seem to be an ebb and flow, a chance for us to catch our collective breaths, but then again, there is not the utter ruthlessness that at the very least allows for bragging rights and some kind of stoic strength or hearty embrace because it feels like a nasty anomaly.  It’s just cold – still.  And crap, it’s snowing again. Just enough for half the block to shovel and the other half to ignore.  Just in time for rush hour.  Again.

Something I have noticed this year, however, is that – for the most part – folks this winter have been more okay with slowing down than in years past.  And I don’t mean slowing down in the midst of a snowstorm, or slowing down while walking on ice.

No, this is a seasonal slow down, something I haven’t seen in years.  I mainly see it on city roads, because that is what I transverse the most.  Sure, I had that one early Saturday morning when I took my son to his 6:00 am work call across town, and the snow had just started covering the highway.  It had turned nasty cold, and the snow was more ice than fluff, and conditions were dire.  That was a white knuckle drive where I had my blinkers on as I traveled 35 mph on an interstate, but the rest of traffic – what there was – was pretty much only going a few mph faster.  A few hearty souls in their heavy vehicles with four wheel drive were cruising along at 45 mph, but there were three lanes so they weren’t forced to follow my more scaredy-cat pace.

What I’m talking about is the after-the-snowfall drive, when the plows have been through and the problem isn’t the falling snow or the blowing snow or the immediate weather threat.  It’s the aftermath.  It’s the time when normally the mindset is that the danger is over and life can pretty much get back to normal.  But it can’t, not this year.  It’s the snow pack that never really goes away, due to the cold.  It’s the black ice that forms at intersections, or the churned up chum of snow and grit that doesn’t allow a gaining of purchase so that pulling into traffic can at any time turn into an extremely slow spinning of tires and hopes that what seemed like adequate time to clear through oncoming traffic turns into a heart pounding hope that your efforts are seen and cars bearing down on you slow down enough to give you time to gain traction.

It’s also the extra caution used at stop signs and traffic lights, that breaking will occur sooner than normal so no one slips and slides into the cars in front of them that are already stopped.  Or the very careful left turns and right turns on impacted streets where the very real possibility exists that even though you’ve turned the wheels where you want to go, the cars still insists on sliding straight ahead, or worse yet, sliding to the side to bounce off of curbs or parked cars, or impact into snow drifts built up on the side of the road.  What a helpless feeling that is, to be at the mercy of inertia!

Sob, heavy world Sob as you spin
Mantled in mist
Remote from the happy.

W. H. Auden

But that “hell with it” attitude is not happening this winter.  People really are driving carefully.  And not just cautious creatures like myself, but everybody.  Folks in SUVs, in Hummers, in ratcheted up trucks.  Folks in station wagons and sports cars, in delivery vans and taxis.  And not just after the snowfall, but days later.  They are more tolerant of us overly-cautious drivers, and they don’t crowd us to communicate their impatience at our less-than-limit pace.  They don’t flick their high beams in our mirrors when they have to slow down to let us in to traffic.  They don’t honk when we refuse to speed up as the light turns yellow, nor do they try to jump the lights so if we don’t feel we can brake in time to stop on the yellow and continue through the intersection as the light turns red, there is a moment of terror, knowing we should of stopped but couldn’t.  They are more willing to slow down when pulling up behind a bicyclist to wait until there’s an opportunity to give them a wider than normal berth rather than barreling past them – not just to keep a safe distance, but also to keep from throwing slag on someone who has it hard enough just keeping forward momentum.  And there’s little sense of entitlement that comes when aggressive drivers, or drivers who are familiar with the road and therefore more apt to travel it with greater confidence, or drivers in vehicles more suited to inclement weather have to rein themselves in for those of us who aren’t aggressive, aren’t familiar, aren’t equipped with the best gear.

This year, people are more patient.  We all seem to be more willing to be part of the flow rather than grind against it.  We are looking out for each other.  There is a sense that we are all in this, together.  And with that happening, it feels like we are not individuals on a road heading to work, to run errands, to get the kids to school, the dog to the vet or to get those deliveries made.  It feels like we’re in an intricate dance.  That we’re creating something, which is a haven of safety, but could be the art of going slow.  Like words strung together to create sentences, or notes combined to create chords, like pigments that combine to cast new colors, or pixels that exist as separate dots of light, yet when viewed from a distance create pictures of great beauty and clarity, we are all decorating our winter canvas with the art of our shared experience.  Rather than each one driver, each one pedestrian, bicyclist, insisting on their own placement in this world, we are working together, building something, slowly.  We collaborate.  We share.  We flow.  And we all get home safely.

Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. —Vince Lombardi

I still think this has been a crappy winter.  I’m still frustrated by the cold, the snow, the parking regulations, the daily need to scrape frost off windshields – both outside and inside, to be aware of the level of windshield wiper fluid in my car, of having to constantly be on guard when venturing out doors, of combining pleasure of getting pizza delivered with the guilt of making someone else venture out when I’m tucked in and cozy (at least I give a big tip!).  I’m still looking inordinately forward to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in a few weeks.

But at least I can appreciate the art of going slow, in my own efforts, and in those of my neighbors.  It’s not much, and yet it’s everything.  It will get us all through this; in a small way, in a big way.  By collaborating in the art of going slow, we all will make to yet another glorious spring.

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