Downshifting

“People don’t like to signal, here,” said my brother. “And why don’t they slow down?”

I’ve been driving on Italian highways for years, and it’s true, it can be a little scary having a car come up behind you at 160 mph, when a few seconds ago you looked back and saw nothing. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down, either; that’ll really put your nerves to the test. Newbies will actually pull over after the first or second game of “Highway Chicken,” short of breath.

A few years ago, though, I beat the system, but in a novel way. I was driving the Ancona-Milan highway at a relatively moderate speed, comfortably located in the middle lane (of three). This is a good way to avoid those maniacs, who are forced by law to pass on the far left lane. I remember a green semi moved into my center lane about 300 yards ahead of me, wanting to pass an even slower truck on his right. No problem, I thought, I’ll just move into the left… Ooops! at that same moment, I saw a BMW bearing down on me in the dreaded left lane. So there I was, trapped.

I had a split-second to make the decision: accelerate into the far left lane, swerving around the semi and quickly returning to the middle lane… or simply slowing down and patiently letting the BMW pass. It would take lots of focus and energy to do the first, patience and surrender the second. It wasn’t an easy decision.

I tapped the brake.

Suddenly it was if the sun parted through the clouds and shined on the whole world. Behind me the BMW had tucked himself into the middle lane behind me; ahead of me the semi had quickly reentered the far right lane. I had smooth sailing both ahead and to the left.

And to think I was contemplating risking my life a few seconds ago! So instead of simply reacting, I took the shortest of pauses, and in that moment… suddenly everything changed.

“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to do nothing,” my friend Domenico likes to say.

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