Saturday, October 28, 2006

Slow Down

The other day, a fella stood behind me in the checkout line at Canadian Tire, itching to pay & go. He was bouncing impatiently on his toes. "I hate lines," he muttered to me. "I can't stand waiting."

It wasn't much of a line; there was only one person in front of me. "Maybe the universe is trying to tell you to slow down," I offered.

"Yeah, maybe," he said, politely turning away. End of conversation.

I'm seeing this phenomenon all too often these days. Nowhere is this more common than on city streets. I've been tailgated by agressive drivers who allow me to examine their middle fingernail when they pass. If I'm doing 82 km/h in an 80 km/h zone, I'm quickly overtaken by every other car on the road. If I'm doing 58 in a 60 zone I create a traffic jam behind me.

Not that I'm innocent of this type of behaviour either: it's easy to fall into frustration with the slow folks in front of me. I am a master at predicting which lane is the fastest one to be in, a skill I picked up a decade ago when I drove taxi.

What's the big hurry? How often have you seen a red sportscar race past you, only to pull up alongside it at the next red light? I chuckle when that happens; not only does that driver look like an idiot, but his mileage and brakes suffer too.

This post-modern obsession with speed is at home too. Microwave ovens, minute rice, fast-forward on the DVD, overnight shipping, high-speed internet, speed dial, quick-release garden hoses... it's very intimidating. If I don't go fast enough, I'll get left behind - or so they tell me.

Yet I once learned something about people who drive motorhomes that taught me a valuable lesson. If the speed limit is 100 km/h (60 mph), they'll set their cruise control at about 97 km/h. When a faster vehicle approaches, it will quickly pass. They've discovered that by doing this, they will avoid most highway traffic, because fast vehicles seem to travel in swarms or packs. The typical hour of highway driving for a motorhome has about 10 minutes of having other cars pass, and then 50 minutes of relative peace.

If the world passes me by, so what? It has very little of value to offer. And the things that are worth noticing can only be seen when I'm not obsessed with efficiency and haste.

I have a friend who will literally spend hours on the phone to save $14 on a plane ticket. If he had instead been engaged in productive work during that time, he could have netted more than enough money to cover his losses - and with much less hassle.

Really, what's the big hurry anyway? Life, while short, is actually quite long. Try waiting one minute without doing anything. Right now.

There. That was hard, wasn't it? Life is filled with those long minutes. Enjoy them. Cram them full of happy memories.

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