Left-lane bandit alert

Hoosiers get, well, semi-tough:

The state of Indiana is cracking down on motorists driving too slowly in the left lane.

In the first year of the State’s highway slowpokes law, state police issued 109 tickets and at least 1,535 warnings to drivers that didn’t move from the left lane when they should reasonably know another vehicle is trying to overtake them. The law went into effect last July.

Hey, it’s a start.

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A vast waistline

“Who in the heck writes whole paragraphs and posts about highways?” asks Joe. “It’s a road.” Well, yeah. But before he said that, he said this:

Windshield time is not conducive to a positive outlook on life. I-70 in particular seems to wear me down and over the decades I have found this true of the roadway no matter what part of the country it traverses, perhaps because it is mostly a straight slash across the center of the nation. The highway seems to be a weird dividing line for weather; above gets snow, below does not or below sees rain, above the road none. It also seems to be an almost modern Mason-Dixon Line dividing cultures and dialects. I know this to be somewhat true in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. I am not sure if the pattern holds sway in other parts of the country. It is also quite likely the whole idea is a figment of my imagination. Anyway, from Harrisburg to Kansas City and beyond the road is boring unattractive and dull. How US 40, which covers pretty much the same exact ground can be so much more interesting is beyond me. Of course the old National Road will take you twice as long to get you where you are going.

I have the opposite view of windshield time, though this is probably because I don’t get enough of it — at least, not in a good way. (Being stuck behind dawdling members of the Anti-Destination League in the middle of the afternoon commute is not a good way.) Still, US 40 is to be preferred over I-70 at least as far west as Topeka, after which the two roads merge for most of the rest of Kansas. I admit to having less experience with the eastern stretch, which ends up in Atlantic City.

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High-rolling chicane

If you have to drive, but you really, really hate cars, this is what you’re probably driving:

That class of vehicle is the CUV, or compact utility vehicle. “Cute-ute” for short. It’s the perfect car for people who hate cars. It doesn’t handle worth a damn, being basically a short-wheelbase compact car jacked up on tall shock absorbers. It weighs a thousand pounds more than it should and usually has less interior space than one of those wacky Tercel wagons with the single reverse light from the Eighties. It costs more than the mid-size sedans with which it shares showroom space and to which it is inferior in every measure from the quarter-mile to the fuel range. It is worthless off-road and feckless on-road.

The cute-ute exists for one reason and one reason only: to let you “sit high.” It’s a clown car on stilts. If you are ever asked to name the vehicle that is the exact spiritual opposite of the Challenger Hellcat or the Lamborghini Huracán or the Mazda Miata, there’s only one answer, and the cute-ute is that answer. Their drivers are, by and large, slack-jawed pseudo-passengers whose rapt attention to their iPhones or AM radio stations is only occasionally interrupted by a Pequod-worthy swing of the helm or an ABS-squeaking random stab of the brakes. Of the last five vehicles to run my motorcycle out of a freeway lane, three of them were Honda CR-Vs.

I once coveted one of those wacky Tercel wagons, which should tell you how questionable my automotive tastes are.

That said, if I may twist up an observation by young Dashiell Robert Parr: if everybody sits up high, then nobody sits up high.

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Double yellow swine

Eric Scheie contemplates the left-lane bandit (Decelerus scumbili):

What I would love to know is what it is that makes certain swinish people think that they have a God-given right to occupy the passing lane and refuse to move.

I suspect that, like so many others, they have remade God in their own image, and conflate His interests with theirs.

While I try to understand people by putting myself in their position, where it comes to this business, I’m stumped because I am in their position all the time. I have to drive in the left lane a lot, because here in Michigan, trucks are forced to stay in the right and follow the slower 60 m.p.h. speed limit, which means that cars that travel at their speed limit of 70 must either get in the left or be forced to slow down to 60. Under this system, naturally there are often people who driving faster coming up behind me. Sure, some of them are rude about it, but I always get over, just as I would expect the same from a driver in front of me going more slowly. It’s just one of the basic rules of driving on the highway, and I have been doing it for many decades. But it seems that there are more left lane road hogs than ever before, though. Is it because there are more drivers and they stand out more, or might the problem be that driving schools have stopped teaching that the left lane is for passing? Or are people just ruder?

The same two-tier speed limits prevail in Texas — on the fastest non-toll roads, cars go 80, trucks 70 — but Texas has some semblance of lane discipline, and similarly enlightened states, such as my own, will happily bust you for plodding along in the left lane.

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Century marked

A few days ago, NewsOK was asking online visitors if they’d ever driven over 100 mph. I duly checked the Yes box and moved on.

Now comes the very model of a modern slow-news-day above-the-fold feature: Oklahoma law seems to give 100 mph speeders a pass. A brief glance at the article will tell you that it’s not that they’re getting a pass; it’s just that the state hasn’t been ratcheting up the penalties in a manner acceptable to the Oklahoman.

Some of the paper’s complaints, after analyzing a couple years’ worth of records:

  • In one out of four cases, violators either avoided prosecution, pleaded to lesser charges or received probation, which in some instances allowed them to have the citation removed from their public record.
  • Authorities filed reckless driving charges only in about 10 percent of the cases. Some states mandate the often harsher penalty of reckless driving for those who exceed certain speeds. Oklahoma has no such mandatory requirement.
  • In Oklahoma, drivers caught traveling at excessive speeds do not automatically lose their licenses. Some states have taken a tougher stance.

“Other states do it,” I must point out, does not mean it’s a good idea. The Oklahoman knows this, having insisted that Governor Fallin’s rejection of an Obamacare-style insurance exchange is the right thing to do no matter what those other states do.

And “reckless” is meaningless unless there’s a threat. Captain George Brown of DPS:

“If somebody’s on the turnpike with 9-foot shoulders and there’s no traffic and they’re just speeding, well that’s just speeding unless there’s some circumstances that make it dangerous to the public.”

I expect some government agency to invent a threat. Call it “secondhand speed.”

In the meantime, until I see some criticism of Life Members of the Anti-Destination League crawling along at twenty under the speed limit, I refuse to take seriously any whining about going twenty over.

Addendum: AMA on reddit about the article and its findings.

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Put your slush in the box

Nell lusts after a Nissan Z, until she sees what’s between its seats:

[I]t had an awful glaring flaw: an automatic transmission.

These are cars for 1) enjoying the road 2) in full and total control of the vehicle. This is part of why there is no backseat. Children typically go into a backseat, and those of you with children know full well that children prohibit the enjoyment of anything that isn’t their idea.

What these cars are not for:

These are not cars for talking on your cell phone while driving, hands-free or otherwise, which detracts mightily from the enjoyment of the road. These are not cars for members of the Anti-Destination League. These are not cars for going to Wal-Mart and buying presents for your grandchildren, hence the lack of backseat and trunk space. These are not cars for automatic transmissions, you determine when to shift and when not to, you don’t leave this decision for the car. Make that downshift to blow by that turtle who’s been blocking you for the last half-mile.

Nissan will cite the take rate on the stick and tell you they’re just giving the people what they want. Apparently what they want is to yak up a storm with one hand on the wheel. (I have to clear my phone’s Missed Calls log regularly, lest it eat up all the available memory, since I am loath to answer when I’m driving. And I have a farging automatic, yet.)

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And less is mower

Five years ago, I spent a smallish bunch of money on a lawn mower from Black and Decker, utterly lacking in engine: it has a little electric motor and a place to attach an extension cord. Gas prices were on the rise back then, and were worse the following year, so I was able to console myself with the thought that 12 amps times 120 volts equals 1440 watts times one hour equals about a quarter’s worth of electricity.

The Lawn Hog, as it was designated, held up decently well, though it has what I consider an irritating design flaw: unless you’re in the habit of carrying around calipers and maybe a small scale, you’ll never know if the blade is properly balanced on the motor shaft. This is usually what happens when it isn’t; if things are sufficiently out of plumb, the machine gives off a belch worthy of a Hungarian dinner and then flings the blade and its fittings in some random direction. The last time it did that, I flipped the box on its back, and noted that the little plastic fan that is supposed to circulate air to create mulchitude had a broken blade. Well, geez, no wonder it’s out of balance.

So I detached the handle, kinda sorta, and hoisted the machine into the trunk, grateful for its low mass (about 50 lb, plus several ounces of what used to be topsoil). That was Wednesday evening. Thursday afternoon I ditched work early, motivated by the following considerations:

  • No one will work on this little darb except B&D factory service;
  • There’s only the one service depot in town, and it closes at five;
  • It’s damn near the Cleveland County line, which I generally am not.

Arriving after a half-hour trip that would have taken 18 minutes were it not for random appearances of members of the Anti-Destination League, I pulled the creature from the trunk, attached its handle upside down, and wheeled it through the doors.

Estimate was $90, which didn’t sound bad; advised there’d be about a week of turnaround time, I responded jauntily, “A week is good. Take your time.”

“We get a lot of that,” said the tech.

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Move along, dammit

Yes, it’s called the Garden State Parkway, but no, that doesn’t mean you get to park there. A New Jersey legislator has sponsored a bill to jack up the penalties for left-lane banditry:

State Senator Donald Norcross (D-Camden) has sponsored a bill that would toughen the penalties for clogging the left lane.

“Being trapped behind a slower vehicle is one of the biggest triggers for road rage,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. “Some people have told me the fines we’re proposing are not high enough. They said, ‘It should be execution.'”

Norcross won’t go quite that far, but the fines will be boosted from the $50-100 range to $100-300. Last year, New Jersey police busted members of the Anti-Destination League 5,127 times, so this has the potential of dropping a quarter-million dollars or more into Trenton’s depleted coffers.

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Second gear: lean right

With a kind reference to this January post, Robert Stacy McCain once again explains to you clodhoppers cluttering up the left lane why the essence of transportation is speed:

On your 20-mile rush-hour commute, the difference in road-time between driving 40 mph and driving 50 mph is inconsequential. But on a 500-mile trip, an average speed of 62 mph means an eight-hour trip, while an average speed of 77 mph means a 6-and-a-half-hour trip. Why should I spend an extra hour-and-a-half on the road, if I can safely drive 77 mph without getting pulled over? (On a 70-mph freeway, no trooper will waste his time busting you for 77, when so many drivers are actually doing 80.)

This fits nicely with my own highway observations. It is no advantage to be the fastest driver on any given slab — the guy doing 80 instead of 77 on the 500-mile trip stands to gain no more than 15 minutes, and is far more likely to attract the attention of your friend John Law — but there is a major disadvantage to being the slowest, especially if you’re parked in the left lane and more rational drivers are routing around you as though you were damage. Because you are.

Allow me to point out the law where I live:

Upon a roadway which is divided into four or more lanes, a vehicle proceeding at less than the maximum posted speed, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, shall not impede the normal flow of traffic by driving in the left lane. Such vehicle shall be driven in the right-hand lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

Note that “the normal flow of traffic” is given deserved priority over some associate member of the Anti-Destination League plodding along at 66 in a 70 zone. And That Mr. G Guy points out that in south Florida, 75 mph marks you as slow; I’ve never driven south of Orlando, but last time I was down that way, 80 was routine on I-75 south of the Georgia line.

(Title source.)

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Adventures in red tape

Saturday I dropped into the local tag agency and paid a ghastly sum for a little rectangle of plastic with a barely-legible 2012 on it, and having finally learned to remember the expiration date on my driver’s license, I decided that 0.5 stone per bird was a more efficient use of my time, and ambled over to the other side of the building to do the renewal.

And HAL balked: “I’m sorry, Dave.”

“Dave’s not here,” I was ready to point out, but my lack of Daveness notwithstanding, HAL refused to yield, and I was directed to the nearest Driver Examination Station under the auspices of the Department of Public Safety. (Any similarity to any other state’s DMV is probably justified.) Which, it being Saturday, was closed.

First chance I got to break away from the salt mine was this afternoon. Now you should know that “nearest” does not necessarily mean “near”: the only station in Oklahoma City proper is on the far southside, which meant a trip to either Yukon or Edmond. I opted for the latter, contriving to arrive 75 minutes before closing. This got me a 50-minute stay on what you’d get if they’d ordered chairs to match the Group W bench, after which I was admitted to the Inner Sanctum. I presented all manner of paperwork, as required; the high priest punched several thousand buttons, issued me a slip of paper, and bade me return to the tag agent, with the promise that HAL would keep his trap shut.

It was at this point that I realized the folly of this whole operation. It was the last day of the month. What was I thinking? Still, in for a penny, in for a euro or three, and after fighting a whole battalion full of ardent members of the Anti-Destination League, I arrived at the tag agent, to find 18 people ahead of me with thirty minutes to go. Collars, as they say, were getting hot under.

Still, I kept some semblance of cool until the transaction was completed and I was safely out the door and I noticed the 107°F on the dashboard.

Now what caused all this brouhaha? You can charge me with contributory stupidity for trying to do this on the 30th of a thirty-day month, but the real culprit was some feckwit of similar name and description who was wanted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for various unspecified high crimes and misdemeanors. Driver’s-license compacts being what they are, the Keystone Kops asked everyone else to keep a lookout for said feckwit, and of course, DPS and HAL were happy to oblige. (Now of course I’ve been to Pennsylvania, but having dinner with the prettiest girl in Philadelphia is not, so far as I know, illegal.) I have no idea what material DPS had to review to persuade them that I wasn’t the drone they were looking for — they’re not about to give away trade secrets — but I do wish to express my desire that the perp be caught and beaten to within an inch of his life.

Come to think of it, make that half an inch.

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Beware of the blah

It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the road, and it might just make you a worse driver:

If you’re bored during your drive to work, there’s a greater chance you’ll speed, a new study from Australian researchers says.

The [Newcastle University] study, which looked at 1,563 drivers, found people are willing to take more risks behind the wheel if they aren’t enjoying the ride.

Well, of course; we want to get it over with quick, because it’s so dreary, drab and dull, and besides, we have to get around that rolling chicane from the Anti-Destination League who proclaims to the world how moral he is by going 58.5 in a 60 zone in the left lane.

Besides, it’s not like we have to spend 90 percent of our time avoiding lift-throttle oversteer:

“As cars come fitted with more gadgets to make driving easier and planners remove more of the distractions, it comes as no surprise to me that people are finding the pleasure of driving has become rather a chore. With that comes an increase in the risks drivers take as they mentally switch-off instead of focusing on the road,” professor of transport Edmund King said in a release about the study.

“Oh, I’ll just answer this one text, and —”

“We may need to start considering some radical schemes such as putting bends back into roads or introducing the concept of shared space as it would force motorists to think about their driving and pedestrians to think about cars,” [lead researcher Dr Joan] Harvey said.

There’s no scheme more radical than forcing people to think, especially since so many of them would rather not.

(Via Autoblog.)

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Last one across is, um, me

In front of me at the intersection: a Mercedes-Benz S500 with the AMG badge. On the rear deck: a John Deere hat. (Only in Oklahoma, right?) Amount of time I expected to take getting across the cross street: next to nil.

Not even close. The previous record for slow observed acceleration in non-diesel cars was held by my daughter’s old ’81 Ford Escort, known familiarly as “Muff, the Tragic Wagon.” This guy, however, evidently a life member of the Anti-Destination League, crawled across the lanes as though he’d been forcibly injected with snail DNA, and finally signaled a left turn into the gas station on the corner, fifteen feet into the next block. It apparently never occurred to him to hang a left at the intersection — it’s protected — and then do a quick right into the station.

“Why isn’t this guy in a Buick?” I asked myself. Further puzzlement came when I got home to look up the number of ponies who weren’t getting exercised, and apparently the Benz boys didn’t actually build an S500 AMG; there was indeed a W220 S500, but the AMG-enhanced model was the S55. Maybe he bought the AMG body kit — or just the badge. Who knows? Now I’m wondering if that was a real John Deere hat.

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Doesn’t sound like Germans to me

Rob O’Hara meets up with the Anti-Destination League:

Twice this week I’ve ended up stuck on I-270.

Not a road I’ve ever spent any substantial time on, I admit.

It always starts well. The ride from where I’m staying to Germantown isn’t bad, but that’s where the problems begin. The people of Germantown have a propensity to pull on to the Interstate and just park. Seriously, that’s what it looks like. (The part where it goes from four lanes to two doesn’t help, either.) There are only a few exits to Germantown, but I sat stationary for almost 20 minutes.

And while you’re not moving there are plenty of signs to look at, like the ones that say “Trucks: No Changing Lanes”. Trust me, trucks are not changing lanes. Just like the rest of us, they’re not moving side-to-side (or forward for that matter).

And because there’s always a punchline:

Then there’s the speed limit sign that warns you about speeding. “Speed Limit: 65mph. Your Speed: 7mph.”

Geez. What’s Montgomery County going to do for revenue?

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On the sinister side of the street

Francis W. Porretto channels his automotive fury into an excoriation of the Anti-Destination League, a term I first saw in Car and Driver twenty-odd years ago, which may or may not have been devised by one-time Termite Terrace denizen Charles M. Jones. It’s certainly an apt description of those individuals who make it their business to keep you from getting to your business.

One subgroup thereof:

There are the ones who drive at 35 mph in the left lane of a superhighway. Why? Because it’s their God-given right as retirees, or Cadillac owners, or Democrats. Because the left lane is where all the better folk are to be found. Wouldn’t want to mix with the groundlings to the right; that’s for scum from inferior families and blighted neighborhoods. The left lane it must be, and never mind how many cars are squaring out from behind them or whizzing past on the right.

Most of our highways dare not aspire to super-ness, but at least that sort of thing is ticketable in Soonerland as of Sunday:

Upon a roadway which is divided into four or more lanes, a vehicle proceeding at less than the maximum posted speed, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, shall not impede the normal flow of traffic by driving in the left lane.

Upon a roadway which is divided into four or more lanes, a vehicle shall be driven in the right-hand lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway. Provided, however, this paragraph shall not prohibit driving in a lane other than the right-hand lane when traffic conditions or flow, or both, or road configuration, such as the potential of merging traffic, require the use of lanes other than the right-hand lane to maintain safe traffic conditions.

As I noted when this measure was enacted:

This has the potential to make my afternoon commute interesting, since it involves two exits from the left lane.

Still, unless someone has done something unusually stupid, traffic at that time of day on our 60-mph freeways is moving at somewhere around 60 mph, which tends to forestall the development of road rage.

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This is why I cut you off

Sometimes, the yutzim on the freeway get themselves into lockstep, and a slow lockstep at that. It’s times like these that call for action, of the sort that gets you honked and/or yelled at. But the benefits are genuine:

According to the latest physics research, rule-breakers — drivers passing you on the wrong side or changing lanes too close to the intersection — actually help smooth the flow of traffic for the rest of us. “The interesting finding is that if most of the people are law-abiding, and you have a certain amount of people who are breaking the rule, then you are actually getting the minimum chance of a [traffic] jam,” said Petter Minnhagen, a physicist at Sweden’s Umea University and an author of the paper published in the journal Physical Review E.

Weirdly enough, this started out as a study of pedestrians:

Physicists at the school uncovered this phenomenon while constructing a computer model of how a crowd of people move across a confined space, such as a pedestrian-only street. They divided the space into squares, like a chessboard, and randomly placed pedestrians in some of the squares. Like real people, the model pedestrians had a certain small probability of momentarily pausing, as if they had run into a friend or had bent down to tie a shoelace.

To make things more interesting, the researchers then tossed a few mavericks into the mix, who didn’t follow the rules the other pedestrians used. The physicists ran the simulation over and over, each time boosting the percentage of rule-breakers. At first pedestrian deadlocks worsened. But as more and more rule-breakers joined the fray, something entirely unexpected occurred: traffic flowed best when only about 60 percent of pedestrians were obeying the rules.

Simple interactions of individual cars, people, or molecules add up to large patterns in a system. The high concentration of pedestrians in a small area increases the chances of a jam, but rule-breakers made the crowds spread out.

No surprise there, really: with almost anything in motion, there’s some sort of sweet spot, and it takes a little effort to find it sometimes.

Morris Flynn, a University of Alberta professor who uses computational methods to study car traffic, agrees with the explanation. Because rule-breakers “carve out their own path,” Flynn said, they dilute large concentrations of rule-abiders moving in the same way. He pointed out an example familiar to anyone who has driven on a two-lane road: breaking the speed limit to pass a slow vehicle prevents a long chain of cars from forming.

Which I had to do Friday morning to get around a sleepy-headed Camry with its cruise control set on a stolid 58 mph. (“The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”) In this state, incidentally, they can bust you for doing that in the left lane, much to the surprise of the Anti-Destination League.

An abstract of the study can be found here.

(Seen at Autoblog.)

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Speed bumps with wheels

Around here, if one lane is moving markedly slower than the other, I start looking for a Buick, and with judicious application of the loud pedal, I’ll find it soon enough.

Other parts of the country seem to have different obstacles entirely:

It sure seems that every time I run into a bunch of cars backed up in the left lane I find the head of the line is being held up by a Prius. Is there something about that car that makes you drive like a moron? Maybe it is the sense of entitlement you feel by buying a green car that makes you drive like a Dickhead?

Which is not to say that I’ve never seen such a thing before:

So I’m tooling up the Lake Hefner Parkway and not actually looking (much) at the blonde in the red Mustang convertible, when a member of the Anti-Destination League shows up in the lane ahead of me: a greener-than-thou Toyota Prius at a stolid 61 mph, impeding progress and probably proud of it. I noted that this was probably just my evocation of a standard stereotype, and such things have been wrong before — fercryingoutloud, I actually once knew a gay man who was an absolute slob, which conventional wisdom says is impossible, or at least unheard of — but it didn’t stop me from uttering a few choice Anglo-Saxonisms as I passed the little electric wheezer. (Speed limit on this section of the Parkway is in fact 65 mph.)

But the counterexample came less than five miles later:

And eastbound on Memorial Road at a crisp clip, I was passed up by someone in a big hurry — in a Toyota Prius. Under the circumstances, I suppose I should have apologized for driving too slowly.

From this I conclude the following:

  • I should probably avoid Priora when driving in the Midwest;
  • It’s a good thing GM never built any Buick hybrids.

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A wake-up call with wheels

I am often asked why I live where I do, and one reason I occasionally offer is “Because it’s possible to hit 75 or 80 on the morning commute. Try that in [insert name of questioner’s home town].”

The downside of this, of course, is that it’s sometimes necessary to hit 75 or 80 on the morning commute. This morning, the truckers were in a hurry; the pavement was slickish in spots, owing to thunderstorms last night; and there was the usual contingent from the Anti-Destination League cruising along at exactly 58 mph, congratulating themselves for their superior morality.

Gwendolyn gave me one of those “You’re not going to sit here and take that, are you?” expressions, and sure enough, I wasn’t. The truckers did their best to open holes; I spent only just enough time filling them to escape the laggards. I’d hate to do this for miles on end (I remember a day on the New Jersey Turnpike when — oh, never mind), but a brief burst of industrial-strength driving is almost always invigorating, especially since my mad wheel skillz haven’t quite deteriorated despite my advanced age.

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