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MINDFULNESS
The trip to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, from Ossining, New York, is estimated by Google maps at 108 miles, one way, and about 2 hours in duration. When my wife and I drove it this summer to attend my friend Warrens sons wedding, it took us about 30-40 minutes longer than the estimate. The reason for that was that I tried to travel at least five miles below the speed limit on every road and at 45 miles per hour on The Toyota Corolla at I-287 and I-84. Let me assure you, from the the Wedding in start, that the idea to travel at a 45 miles per Honesdale, PA, 2008. hour on the interstate did not work. Even at 55 (the new upper limit I set on the trip) it felt scary when semis, at their 75-80 mph speed and tens of thousands of pounds of mass, bore down on our little Toyota Corolla. Needless to say, we were the slowest vehicle on the road and only once did we pass anyone. This was an overloaded truck chugging up a Pennsylvania hill at about 40and we breezed by. Of course, he left us in the dust on the next downhill and we never saw him again.

About 22 years ago I had a similar experience when I rode my silver Honda Elite 150 from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Miami, Oklahoma. On that trip, also, the only vehicle I passed was a truck that was traveling about 2 miles slower than Igoing up hill. I would not even have attempted to pass that truck Silver Honda Elite 150 except that it was a hay Similar to authors 1985 model truck with seven or eight layers of hay bales stacked on its bed, and I was petrified that a bale of hay could fall off and crush me if I continued to tag along behind it. As I was waiting for hill that was long enough for me to pass it, I had more than one thought about a possible headline in the local paper; something to the effect:: Dumb Hoosier, Killed by Errant Hay Bale. Of course, the fear of being crushed by a teetering hay bale was nothing compared with the panic that set in when a hail storm began, later in the trip. I was fortunate that when it started hailing I was only a few hundred feet from an exit and a warm, safe motel. As soon as the precipitation started I pulled off the road, got a room, and then watched from its comfort and safety as baseball-sized hail peppered the landscape. Forty years ago, the summer I got my first drivers license, I was traveling from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Mt. Kisco, New York, for my first job after graduating from college. It was a Sunday, the day after I passed my road test, I was about to start teaching at Fox Lane High Schools summer session. My vehicle was my fiances VW Bug which could, on Connecticut hills, only achieve 55 on the downhills. Going uphill I was worried about maintaining the states minimum. But, I was so nervous about a possible accident that all I was concerned about was arriving at my destination in one piece; I was not worried about passing anyone, or speeding. Between these three driving episodes I have had the opportunity to drive on three continents, in 12 countries and 30 states. I loved the German Autobahn with its lack of speed limits and the ever-present beer machines at rest stops. One of my memorable moments was 2
A Fiat X1/9 similar to authors Max

driving our commanding colonels staff car over 100 mph on this road as I visited our outlying Army hospitals in preparation to sending one of of the hospitals to help Jordans King Hussein in his battle against the Palestinians. In the U.S. my favorite memory is of going 90-100+ mph around the hills of Midland, Texas, on a summer evening in my Fiat X1/9 with its top removed. The road was serpentine, black and smooth like licorice, with the evening sun adding warmth of color to a landscape that I have not experienced again. These peak moments of speeding were counterbalanced by episodes such as the 12-hour day driving the 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Plitvice to Shibennik (Yugoslavia) on rutted dirt roads, with the only paved stretches running through the villages. One could not even go smoothly on those parts of the road because in almost all cases the pavement was used by the old men in the village as their bocce court. We would stop, wait till the set was over, wave, and drive on. The only consolation in such a trip is the humor one derived from the Baedeker instructions for finding the correct turnoff on the road, You will see two unpaved roads going to the left. The road at the head of which (on the right) there is an old oak tree is the one to take. There is also the memory of the mountain road (more like a goat track) in Greece that was just wide enough for our VW Beetle; I prayed that there would be no oncoming car, or even person, on that road. If I were ever to add up the various incidents and adventures with the different autos Ive owned, borrowed, and rented in the past 40 years, and the interesting places visited in these vehicles, I could write a sizeable chapter in a memoir. Alternatively, a travelogue of some length could also come out of such an exercise, perhaps as interesting as Kerouacs On the Road. Throughout all these adventures two invariables remained rather constant for some time: driving, on occasion, after excessive drinking, and speeding. Fortunately, the mix of alcohol and driving ceased in 1985 when a second marriage prompted a commitment to stay away from Demon Rum, so as to ensure a long-lived marriage; that idea worked, the marriage has lasted, and there was one less menace on American and foreign roads. The tendency to speed, however, lasted until recently. The trip to Honesdale this summer was a culmination of a commitment I made earlier when grappling with ways to cut our cost of transportation and to show directly, unambiguously, and permanently my unwillingness to be fleeced by oil companies. I never imagined reversing the excessive costs of gasoline by my actions, but at least, I figured, I could minimize being fleeced.

The original operational idea was simpleto travel five miles below the speed limit and not to exceed 45 miles per hour on interstates. For a few weeks I experimented on my normal daily commute and the idea worked pretty well. The only questionable part was the commitment to the 45 mph limit when traveling on the Taconic Parkway. Though posted at 55 mph, only a few folks travel at 65 most go over that, like a friend who admitted to traveling at 88 mph on the highway. Fortunately, however, in New York state trucks and other commercial vehicles are not allowed on parkways, and since I always travel in the extreme right-hand lane, few passenger cars take notice. Every oncein-a-while some idiot will get behind me and, with two perfectly good lanes available for speeding, will flash his lights. I just marvel at this arrogant stupidity, and wonder if the driver even has an inkling that the technique of flashing lights to indicate an intention to pass came from Europe in the 1960s, mainly as a courtesy to drivers sharing the common three-lane roads, where the middle lane is the passing lane for both directions of traffic. This sign of courtesy and safety became a mark of impatience and arrogance in the U.S. and was made possible when imports, with their light switches mounted on the steering wheel, made this form of communication common. Perhaps the most inane instance of this type occurred recently on the Massachusetts Turnpike where a driver, approaching me at a high rate of speed in the extreme right lane, flashed his lights and then proceeded to lean on his horn as he passed me, with all the passengers in the car indicating their displeasure with my driving style with unmistakably rude gestures. Final experimentation on the trip to Honesdale proved that the goal of traveling at 45 on major highways was impractical. So, I kept adjusting Authors truck resting. my driving until I achieved a workable balance between my initial goals and the realities of traveling on Americas roads. The final program that I developed consists of the following parts: 1) Dont drive over the speed limit. 2) Try, whenever possible, to drive five miles below the speed limit. 3) Dont drive over 55 miles per hour in any case, except in very special circumstances, and then for the minimum time possible. 4

These three rules achieved my initial goal without endangering my life or proving to be a driving hazard/nuisance. I achieved an overall 1518% increase in mileage (even with constant use of air conditioning in the summer). In essence, every seventh fill-up was paid for by money saved by driving conservatively. To compensate for the loss of efficiency by driving 55 instead of the planned 45, I really focused on driving style. I am fortunate to have a tachometer and cruise control in my vehicle. By ensuring that my engine rpm (revolutions per minute) seldom exceeds 2,000, and attempting stay in the range of 1,500-2,000, as well as by using cruise control whenever possible, I am assured of the most efficient use of my engine. As an interesting by-product of this approach I observed that most automatic transmission cars (mine is a manual transmission) have their shift points in the same range of rpm. This discovery gave me confidence and helped explain the frustration I used to feel when I would accelerate to 3,500 rpm only to be slowed down by a vehicle still traveling at lower rpm. The cruise control helps minutely adjust the throttle; it does it so much more consistently and precisely than I could, manually. I feel fortunate to have it. My wifes older model Toyota Corolla lacks the cruise control and I find it much more difficult to keep to the 55 limit and to keep the throttle modulations in line with changes in the terrain (who would ever think of a Toyota Corollas being overpowered?). My new approach to driving not only has helped achieve my immediate goals but also has contributed to the following societal and unexpected benefits: 1) lessening of carbon emissions, 2) total relaxation in terms of fearing speeding tickets, 3) largely empty roads to travel on (because I am the slowest car on the road, everyone passes me and I have the highway to myself most of the time), 4) an opportunity to much more closely observe my surroundings, 5) because of the increase in travelling time over distances, a greater opportunity to meet people one otherwise would not encounter, and 6) a much more rested mind and body when I arrive at my destination. While I have no idea how many tons of carbon dioxide are emitted by my vehicle over each 100 miles traveled, I know that it must be substantial (I drive a Mazda 4-cylinder pickup truck). The gas savings of nearly 20% reflect a similar diminution of carbon emissions. In Europe, vehicle manufacturers are mandated to publish the carbon emission of their
Unintended humor. Putnam County, NY, 2008

vehicles and there is a European Union-wide program to lower these emissions, as well as to increase mileage, of all vehicles. It is hard to describe the feeling of pleasure that I have now whenever I pass Smokey or a Local Yokel who is sitting in the median or the side of the road. For decades my driving strategy was to drive just at the leading edge of the flow of traffic. If the general speed was around 70 mph I would travel at 72 or 73. This way, I figured, I was mostly safe from unwanted attention from the police. Sometimes I would choose someone who was going a bit faster than I wanted to, to serve as point man. This trick worked pretty well, except for one time on I-70 in Ohio when my designated point man decided to make a full stop in the extreme left lane when the state trooper flagged him down for speeding. Were it not a flat stretch of road and a flat median at that part of I-70, I probably would not now have the opportunity to write this. Fortunately, the trooper did not go after me and I successfully avoided a ticket. Little did I realize, in those decades of crazy driving, that the real payment came in ways other than speeding tickets. The constant attention, vigilance, and continual nervousness I experienced whenever I saw a police car all contributed to an ever-present level of stress and habitually hunched shoulders; the payment for speeding was spiritual and emotional rather than financial. In those days I also did not worry about the amount of gasoline I was burning needlessly, or about the amount of carbon dioxide I was emitting, despite the fact that as early as 1966 I was already aware of the growing ozone hole around Antarctica. But since I always drove economy models, and usually sub-compacts, I felt that in comparison to everyone else I was being responsible. This deluded thinking followed me until gas prices this summer (2008) forced me to reconsider my position. Today, I live in a different reality. I dont look at the police car sitting at the side of the road as a threat or as an enemy. In fact, were it not for my fear of drawing too much attention to myself and possibly being misunderstood, I would happily wave to the trooper holding a lonely vigil. And that brings me to the next pointbeing alone. In all the years of speeding I constantly aspired to a stretch of the road where there was no competition with other cars. At times, this was accomplished simply by a lack of other cars on the road. I remember hours alone on the turnpike in Kansas, or hours of struggling against the headwind on the plateaus of central Spain, or the desolate periods experienced in winter in upstate New York and Vermont during the gas 6

crisis of the 1970s. But usually my attempts to outrun the immediate pack always ran into the difficulty of then having to wend my way through another pack a few miles and minutes later. That is all changed. I go along at my chosen speed and dont even notice cars that pass me by. The vast majority of time I spend either totally by myself i.e., having either both or all three lanes empty, or I suffer a brief swarm of buzzing vehicles before they speed off into the distance, and I am left to my own thoughts and observations. I only become surrounded by other cars in traffic jams, but since I opted out of competing for being at the head of the pack, while others switch lanes and do other things to eke out some imagined advantage I plod along happily until the jam clears. Just like anyone else I am not happy when the bottleneck moves along at a crawl, but I am perfectly content when it travels at 55 and very happy when it goes along at 45my ideal speed. Discovering the emptiness of roads in the suburbs of New York was one of the unimagined benefits of traveling at 55mph. Another one was the opportunity to more closely observe my surroundings: the road itself and the traffic on it, as well as the passing landscape. The first, I believe, gives an additional margin of safety when traveling, and the latter Autumn morning. allows one to discover some of the Westchester County, NY, 2008. unique landmarks one has passed many times without noticing. I chuckled recently when I described the wonder of seeing a Redstone rocket with a space capsule near Concord, New Hampshire, to my son-in-law (a native of the state), who has passed that particular spot a number of times in his decades of travel on that road but who never noticed the rocket. I even catch myself seeing thing for the first time after having passed them on numerous occasions. Since I enjoy photography, the slower speed has made it much easier to see interesting landscapes and then to stop and photograph them. There is no question that the new mode of driving increases time on the road. In my case, the average has gone up by approximately 25%. That could be a negative aspect to this new approach to driving, but if one looks more closely it turns into a real blessing. One great aspect of spending more unhurried time on the road is the opportunity to meet folks whom one previously would rush by. Once one is committed to the idea that it will take longer to go from point A to point B, a certain kind of impatience disappears. One takes more breaks, one dawdles a 7

bit more on those breaks, and one is much more apt to engage in friendly conversation. A case in point came up this past Thanksgiving weekend. My wife and I were traveling to visit her younger daughter and family. On the way there we stopped at a restaurant for dinner. We had our dinner and, since we were no longer in any hurry, we had a nice chat with our waitress. It turned out that she was the mother of two and that this was her second job, which she kept in order to help one daughter with college book costs. We talked a bit about kids, book costs, etc., and she volunteered, with great disgust in her voice, that her daughters college bookstore offered to buy back the used textbooks at $5 each so that they could resell them, again, for $60. This disparity between buy and sell prices made our waitress really angry and she went on to say that she told her daughter to give away the books rather than allow herself to be exploited by the bookstore. Before we left, the waitress suggested that we might want to take some coffee along, and we agreed happily to this suggestion. When the bill came I expected an additional charge for the takeout coffee but discovered that it was included in the price of the coffee we had with the meal. Needless to say, when I paid the bill the tip was particularly generous, and we left with a warm feeling for having met this hard-working, loving, and generous woman. When I look back over the time I have been driving 55 I realize that, while this incident Unintended humor near Concord, NH, 2008. was particularly notable, in the past six months I have had more friendly conversations and positive experiences with folks I have met on my travels than I had previously. And I think that my attitude towards speeding has much to do with it. This brings me to the last benefit noted, that one is much more rested and recovers much faster from road weariness than when travelling at speed. This phenomenon must be in part physiological, in part, psychological. I attribute this phenomenon to the significant reduction in stress caused by foregoing the rat race. In a strange and quirky way the decrease in speed actually helps one arrive earlier by making ones full presence more easily and fully available sooner. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, So it goes. As I was writing this piece a new benefit became apparent, one that I failed to list initially, but one that has great significance in my life. This benefit is the comfort that my new driving habits have given my wife. For years she has been quietly driving at speed limit, sometimes to the great annoyance to those who follow her. My hard accelerations and 8

constant violation of speed limits disturbed her whenever she traveled as a passenger. But, she kept her silence most of the time, and I conveniently ignored the signs of discomfort she exhibited. My new style of driving is more comforting to her and I can feel her become much more relaxed as we travel. For more than two decades she has suffered in silence, and I am glad that now she is a happier passenger. Admittedly, my experience with following the speed limit is still relatively new. After experiencing the first winter, further adjustments to the original program may be in order. But, somehow, I think that with the addition of possible changes to reflect winter driving, the essence of the program will remain for the rest of my driving days. The reason for this confidence is that while my original intent was rather simple and quantifiable (I wanted to cut my transportation costs), the ensuing benefits of this commitment are much morein a deeper and more spiritual realm. Were this decision merely a financial one, the recent dramatic drop in gasoline costs would have one revert to old patterns of driving. But that has not happened because the intangible benefits are so much greater than just the financial rewards. What is it worth to have your wife ride with you feeling more secure and safe? In our normal discourse we think of the word mindfulness as an equivalent of the word awareness, or as being attentive to a matter. In Buddhism, mindfulness encompasses the same understandings but goes further in specifying concentrated awareness of thoughts, actions, and motivations. The concept of mindfulness is very important in Buddhism, and it is the seventh step of the Noble Eightfold Path by which the Buddha promises that lifes suffering can be overcome. All thoughts, emotions, and actions in Buddhism are classified into three possible categories: right, wrong, and neutral. Mindfulness as attention can be any one of the three. So, for example, a safecracker can be very attentive to the sound of the tumblers in a lock falling into place, but the intent is criminal, so this mindfulness would be a wrong mindfulness and would not lead to a decrease in suffering. Watching attentively as a group of kids play a game would, in most cases. be neither right nor wrong, and would therefore Autumn morning moon on the Taconic Parkway, NY, be classified as a neutral action. Driving 55 mph when that is the speed limit, or if it is higher, as it is in most cases, would be a right action and an exercise in the right kind of mindfulness.

In the Buddhist understanding of the term mindfulness we have a concentrated attentiveness that is the right action for a situation. And in this understanding the right action is always the one that leads to the lessening of suffering in others and oneself. Mindfulness, as used here, is the transformation of a potentially negative reality into a positive reality through concentrated attention and right action. Driving 55 is mindfulness. In driving 55, mindfulness transforms two negative qualities, impatience and competitiveness, i.e. the desire to vanquish someone, or to show how much better one is than another person. Impatience, in my book, is a form of intolerance and even greed. To be impatient with a driver who is slow because of a faulty or old auto, is a kind of intolerance of differences; so is the impatience with an older driver, who may not have the reflexes of a 20 year-old. It is little different than being impatient with a foreigner struggling with a new language while forgetting the years it took to master that same language. Impatience is greed, in that it is an attempt to fit more into a time frame Winter on the Taconic near Kent, NY, than would be 2008 natural (such as trying to have a fully developed human child in 8 months) or good. Speeding manifests benefits that come with slower driving into opposite negative characteristics. With speeding, gas economy becomes waste; decrease in air pollution becomes an increase; security in knowing that police will not give you a speeding ticket becomes fear of the consequences of breaking the law; the pleasure of having a road to oneself becomes a crowded swarm of equally impatient drivers; the joy of observation becomes a narrowed focus, such as a horse with blinders would experience; the gift of meeting and seeing new folks becomes a rush past a body that, by its mere presence, is an irritant; and a more rested and quiet mind becomes an overtired brain trying to 10

block the images of constantly flashing lane markers. And, the spouse? The spouse becomes a quietly suffering being giving a prayer of thanksgiving whenever you arrive safely at the destination and always slightly dreading the next trip. Yes, you do arrive faster and are able to collapse sooner from fatigue or have a few drinks to shake the road weariness. Is the price really worth it? The desire to go faster than the car next to you is competitiveness and in all but race driving has few benefits. Will beating that car to the traffic light, at which both will have to wait the same amount of time, really going to make you feel better about the illness of a dying friend? Is driving from New York to Boston in two hours really going to help anything or anyone? Is killing a deer blinded by your lights because you drove too fast to stop in time, a good outcome to that feeling of competitiveness? Do people feel better, more peaceful, and more loving when they feel vanquished by your superior car or driving prowess? And do you feel better about yourself when you outrace a grey-haired driver? I know that when I finished the Marine Corps Marathon and discovered that an 84 year-old man had finished a whole hour ahead of me, I laughed with pleasure and joy and wished I could have seen him and shaken his hand. But then, I was not running to compete with him but to win over my feelings of resistance to the discipline of this sport. And I did winI trained, competed, and finished, even though a man 30 years my senior posted a better time. It would seem that there should be no need for this essay. Why talk about economic, ecological, and psychic benefits of following the speed limit when it is simply a matter of law? One would think that law the most tangible part of a cultures social contract---would be sufficient to achieve the ends enumerated. But as a recent article on the Drive55.org website indicates, over 80% of drivers observed recently on the New York Thruway violate the speeding laws. There are many reasons for this state of affairs, not the least of which are roads that are engineered to accommodate traffic going well in excess of the speed limit. But, perhaps, most important in this system of enabling the current state of affairs is the fact that the likelihood of suffering an easily perceivable and direct negative consequence for wrong behavior is so slight. In nearly 40 years of driving, usually going above the speed limit, I have received a total of four speeding tickets, of which one was a warning. And despite the fact that in nearly 20 years of driving I would, on occasion, drive while intoxicated, I was never stopped, nor did I receive a ticket for that offense. In the past 20 years attitudes toward 11

drinking and driving have changed substantially and it is probably much more likely that I would be stopped today if I were still violating the law in this manner. In large part, attitudes toward drinking and driving were fundamentally affected by grassroots organizations such as MADD. It is my hope that speeding-oriented organizations, such as Drive55.org, will create a similar kind of cultural and legal imperative for a sane approach to driving. In my case, the recent cost disincentive served as the initial inspiration (moment of awakening) for my change in behavior. It is my contention that, if other disincentives were structured into our daily driving reality, more of us would be motivated to become law abiding and thereby create greater social benefits and experience some of the rewards outlined in this piece.

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