The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

17 June 2008

Cruising for the proverbial bruising

There was an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer does a brief stint as a trucker, and is warned never, ever to mention the Navitron Autodrive system which keeps the truck running while he sleeps.

There are people who think that ordinary cruise control works something like that, and they are to be avoided at all cost. For the rest of us, McGehee discloses the Secret of Cruise Control Success:

I settled on keeping the cruise set to one or two MPH above the posted limit. Generally speaking, unless there's a crackdown ordered from on-high most troopers won't bother someone who's within a few ticks of what the signs say, as long as they're driving safely otherwise. Since my top priority was to minimize maneuvers, I needed a setting that would enable me to pass the excruciatingly law-abiding, who tend to bunch up in packs — while also allowing the more daring to glide smoothly on by whenever they overtook me. The 67- or 72-mph bracket is very little occupied and was almost perfect for me.

It usually takes me half a day on the road to remember that I even have the damn thing, and I tend to set it about where McGehee does, though as the speed limit increases I allow myself less of a fudge factor: I'll happily do 64 in a 60 zone, but if I'm allowed 80, I'm loath to poke it much above 81. Of course, if I have to pass someone — and in Texas, 80 zones are 70 zones for trucks and "Left Lane For Passing Only" is occasionally enforced — I can, and will, drop a gear and blow past, if necessary, at ninetysomething, which historically has been safe so long as I remember not to stay there. Inasmuch as Gwendolyn does 95 with about the same alacrity with which she does 70, I do have to watch myself.

Then there's this:

In Kentucky (what is it about Kentucky?) I watched a guy ... in a pickup actually run another car off the road after he discovered that tailgating me wasn't going to make me go any faster than the cars ahead of me were going. The car he tangled with was able to avoid leaving the paved shoulder and recovered almost immediately — but I was sure the guy in the pickup was going to end up killing somebody eventually.

On Texas two-lanes, the shoulders are usually wide enough that if someone is running up behind me, I'll exit onto the shoulder and let the guy pass. (A Bimmer driver actually flashed me some gratitude after I did that south of San Marcos yesterday.) And I do try to keep my distance when I'm not the lead car.

Posted at 7:27 PM to Driver's Seat

I used to think of the cruise control as a "guy thing" until I moved here, and was faced with the occasional hour-plus drive (over country roads with little traffic) to a field site.

Now I know it for what it actually is: a freaking brilliant invention that probably does not receive the praise it deserves. Set it, and forget it. (I tend to have problems with slowly creeping up my speed if I can't use cruise control for some reason. I suppose it's impatience to stop having to look at cattle and actually GET THERE.)

Posted by: fillyjonk at 8:19 PM on 17 June 2008

Cruise control on trucks is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I used to climb out of a truck at the end of the day and nearly fall out, because my right leg was nearly paralyzed from holding the pedal "just so" for hours on end.

That said, I set my speed based on location and the local limits. I have no problem running seventy in the sixty five zones, or sixty five in the sixty zones, say, in Nebraska. When the limits are higher, say seventy five in Colorado, I'll stay closer to the law. Seventy eight or nine is plenty fast in a truck. There have been many trucks in my past that couldn't run that fast downhill with the clutch pushed in.

But in Illinois, where the truck speed limit is fifty five, I feather it along at fifty nine. The state's reputation as a haven for revenue collectors isn't lost on me. Oversized loads on Michigan's secondary highways are limited to a whopping forty five miles an hour, which we tend to follow fairly closely as well, for the same reasons as IL.

Posted by: Jeffro at 8:30 PM on 17 June 2008

A) I set the cruise at pretty much the same fudge factor ... so I expect Chaz, McGehee, and myself to "become the pack" at some point.

B) I try not to linger besides semi's. I was once a passenger in a Mustang convertible, top down, with a driver that insisted on taking 10 miles to complete a pass of a semi on a four lane highway. When what in the air should appear? ... why it's a semi tire carcass, which flew right over my head.

And C) Farmer Fred was in the lead with a load of hay. Rancher Rick was pulling a gooseneck trailer with cattle, and I was following both on a two lane highway, with wide shoulders.

When we reached a clear passing zone, I pulled out. When I was beside him, Rancher Rick decided to pass as well. So I dropped a gear and moved on over to the oncoming shoulder ... and we both completed the pass.

9.7 for style .....

Posted by: Mel at 12:23 AM on 18 June 2008

Your safe doing 5 over the limit in central IL. I do it every day coming and going from work. Heading south to St. Louis, there are lots of cops, but they don't haven't stopped me yet for doing 5 over. Though I tend to slow when I see them, just in case.

Posted by: Huts at 11:02 AM on 18 June 2008

Did I mention I also had the headlights on every time I drove that car? Even if I was moving to a different parking space in the same lot?

No, it doesn't have daytime running lights. That was just me, being mindful of the kind of thing Mel just described in (C). I've been in similar spots, though I've never opted for his solution.

Posted by: McGehee at 12:42 PM on 18 June 2008

Oh, and FWIW, both me and the guy Mr. Kentucky ran off the road, were going in the same direction.

Posted by: McGehee at 12:44 PM on 18 June 2008
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