Put Some Gay In Your Day, Dallas!

I Can Drive 55

Well, it seems you can teach an old dog new tricks. Maybe not the four-legged variety, although I know just the dog whisperer par excellence if you need one. But one of the two-footed kind, whose right one is way heavier than the left.

It may be hard to imagine today when oil companies have such influence in Washington, but in 1974, Congress passed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act that prohibited speed limits above 55 miles per hour. It was in full force (if not compliance by drivers) during my college days and the first few years I lived in Dallas.

Not surprisingly, I racked up a violation driving to Kilgore in pretty swift order. Daddy took care of that one without a grumble. It was the next one, about a month later that I got driving through Marshall on I-20 that brought the “three strikes and you’re out” speech. Meaning out of the car, and leaving the driving to Greyhound. Daddy wasn’t for idle threats, so this young dog (at the time) learned how to drive 55. 

But I took that to mean if you can’t drive above 55, you should be striving to drive AT 55. Going the speed limit was the preferred condition when on the highway. 

In 1987, the law was relaxed, and speed limits could be set at 65 on certain rural roads—interstates and others built to interstate standards. Full repeal of the law came in 1995, and states could (and did) revert to the higher speed limits, and actually increased them in some cases.

But by that time, there were less frequent reasons to drive to Tyler or even on to Louisiana. But when those occasions came up, the older dog still operated under the younger dog’s preference for driving the speed limit if at all possible. But in Texas, most highways have drivers flying at more than 80 while others are slow poking along at 50 or 55. This range of speeds makes for a really stressful challenge when one is trying to drive faster than some and slower than others.

The last time I drove back to Dallas from Louisiana, I was trying so hard to stay at 75. I cursed the drivers at 65 for being in my way, and hated on those who were passing me going 90. I got myself so worked up I even thought about stopping in Lindale to take a nap and finish the last 100 miles after some rest. Anyone who knows me and knows Lindale can tell you know crazy that idea was.

This week I went to Tyler to visit friends, and I made up my mind I was going to change my thinking on how fast to drive. I simply would not work myself up trying to go the speed limit. It was my resolution to stay in the right lane, pass only when no one else was barreling down the left lane, and take the path of least resistance. I managed to do it with little stress, and it took me maybe 10 minutes longer to get there.

Then driving back to Dallas, my resolution was tested—as is the case when one is human. A truck got on the highway ahead of me in Canton. Now this was a real farm truck, not one of those big F (give me a number) city trucks that have never been off pavement. Possibly Old McDonald didn’t know that the 55 miles per hour speed limit was long gone. Or maybe he just didn’t care. And when someone is going that slow on the interstate, everything on wheels is passing you. 

Following behind him at a safe distance, while the cars and trucks were passing us both like we were sitting still, I realized he was holding steady at 55 and—by extension—so was I. The speed I’d been accustomed to 40 years ago. It felt a little slow, but I decided to go with it. By the time there was a gap in the passing lane, I had Patsy Cline turned up, and we were singing a duet so I didn’t even want to go around him. When he got off the highway at Sunnyvale, I sped up to about 65 and decided to just cruise on home. 

Maybe a little slower than before, but when Patsy and I had just finished our encore (“Sweet Dreams”—of course), I was pulling into my driveway. I suppose there’s something about this that may be analogous to something or other, but I’m inclined to leave that for another day. 

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