Yesterday I may have made a great discovery. I have to test it some more but given its earthshaking importance for our American culture I feel obligated to reveal it so others may test it also.
On our rural roads, there is not a lot of traffic, but there are always tailgaters. Guys with mustaches in giant pickups (always alone, truck bed always empty, does this tell us something?), people late to work or late getting home from the bar, and those who just have to be in front even though it is not feasible to go much faster. They bug me. I used to slow down deliberately to frustrate them, and even, I blush to relate, touched my brakes unnecessarily a few times when they got too close, to scare them into backing off.
In my own defense, on these roads there are commonly events that require fast stops or slowdowns, such as deer in the road, bicyclists ditto, and (that other class of aberrant drivers) people coming around a curve on the wrong side of the road. But I listened to the voice of reason (“You irritate one of these yo-yos too much and he’s liable to shoot you or force you off the road!”) and quit the punitive slowing and braking. Samuel L. Goldwyn was right, as usual, when he told us to utilize Western Union if we wanted to send a message.
In my new incarnation as rational long-suffering driver I used my familiarity with the road to pull off and let the yahoos pass me, then I might snarkle and impugn their intelligence, but not so as they would ever notice. Or, if feeling calm and compassionate, I would speculate sympathetically on what emergency forced them to drive in this manner: wife in labor, relative just been in a car wreck (ironic, that), pre-occupied with impending financial ruin due to high insurance premiums. Stuff like that.
But, as so often in this life, it was when I was not thinking about the issue at all, and in fact was feeling good and enjoying uplifting music in the car, that I stumbled upon what may be the great discovery.
The music was Tchaikovsky’s First Violin Concerto–one of those stirring “old war-horses” of the classical repertoire, and I love it. Itzhak Perlman was going at it, and some parts just made my body and soul leap up. Must have had more energy than usual because soon I was “conducting” vigorously with my right arm while driving with my left. I’ve always been prone to this, when driving alone with the right music, but it had been a while. The music called for lots of conducting, or let’s be real, rhythmic arm-waving and hand-pointing. I was having a great time. But I was not neglecting my driving, and soon I noticed in my rear-view mirror that the car behind me which had been not exactly tail-gating but close, had dropped way back. After he turned off, the next car that came up also dropped way back. I could hear their thoughts: “This loon has flipped out completely! Give her some space!”
So there it is, my discovery regarding tail-gating, inhibition thereof.
Here’s Tchaikovsky giving the evil eye to tail-gaters! [Painting: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky by Nikolay Kuznetsov, 1893. Source Wikipedia.]
Of course there are some warnings to be issued. If you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time you should not try this, and probably you should not be driving anyway. Results are not yet in on fMRI brain scans to see if this activity interferes with driving attention as much as, say, cell phone usage, but I’ll get back to you on that. Also, imitating a conductor is strenuous (ever noticed how long conductors live? it is a very healthy profession, judging by longevity ) and you may see unequal muscle development on the arm used.
Fiddler crab, scientific illustration (artist unknown) from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. They may be studying me next!
It is possible to switch arms, but there isn’t enough space on the driver’s door side to give full rein to your enthusiasm. Using both arms at once is not recommended and may attract attention from the police. We never see any out where I live so no worries there.
Finally, I am not a driving expert, a real conductor of orchestras or even trains, nor an attorney. But I can recommend that you check out the music of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, as well as Tchaikovsky, for music to drive by. Even if you keep both hands on the wheel and just listen, it is a good distraction from–well, anything you need distraction from: except of course your own safe driving.
 That little fact-checker that lives in my brain is such a nuisance! I’ve believed this about conductors’ living long lives, probably due in part to the exercise of arm-waving, since I was in high school, but as I was putting it in writing I felt obliged to check it. Sadly, I found good reason to doubt it. See Spurious Correlations by William C. Burns. The major objection seems to be that
…there is a subtle flaw in life-expectancy comparisons: The calculation of average life expectancy includes infant deaths along with those of adults who survive for many years. Because no infant has ever conducted an orchestra, the data from infant mortalities should be excluded from the comparison standard. Well, then, what about teenagers? They also are much too young to take over a major orchestra, so their deaths should also be excluded from the general average. Carroll argued that an appropriate cutoff age for the comparison group is at least 32 years old, an estimate of the average age of appointment to a first orchestral conducting post. The mean life expectancy among U.S. males who have already reached the age of 32 is 72.0 years, so the relative advantage, if any, of being in the famous conductor category is much smaller than suggested by the previous, flawed comparison.
Quoted from Statistics as Principled Argument, by Robert P Abelson
We were carefree and having such fun…
Until those stuffy old fact-checkers came along! [Both of these delightful “cuts” are from the blog BibliOdyssey, a treasure trove of antique illustrations and ornaments. Thanks to ‘peacay’ for his work in finding them and putting them online (and to his other contributors too).