“Road hogs. They’re a constant menace to society. They should be wiped out.”
This immortal line was uttered by the incomparable WC Fields in the 1932 film, “If I Had a Million.”
I don’t recall when I first saw the picture, but it is one that has stuck with me through the years as one of the most poignant and hilarious things I have seen.
The plot of the film involves a dying millionaire who gives eight random people $1 million each.
The real beauty of the film is the segment in which Fields’ wife receives one of the checks. It happens just after their new car, for which they have saved for years, is destroyed by a road hog.
Using their new-found wealth, the couple purchased a fleet of cars and hired an army of drivers to follow them as they embarked on a crusade to rid the streets of the contemptible road hogs.
They patrolled the roadways, hunting for their quarry. When they encountered a road hog, they would pursue him and run him off the road. Then, they would dust themselves off, get into the next car in the line, and begin again.
It was brilliant.
Who among us has not, at some point, wished we could dispense this kind of elemental justice?
Perhaps it is because of these road hogs that a lot of people go through a sort of personality transplant when they get behind the wheel.
Even people who are normally calm and respectful of their fellow man can become raving critics of other motorists after five minutes in the driver’s seat.
They bark out a running commentary concerning the skill level of their fellow drivers, throw in occasional observations with regard to their general level of intelligence, and supplement this with speculation regarding their ancestry.
Other drivers emerge as being too cautious, too reckless, too fast, or too slow, and they display more errors in judgement than one can shake a camshaft at.
One often encounters tortoises and maniacs behind the wheel in the same journey.
It seems inevitable that one will get stuck behind people who are either nearsighted or on some sort of a leisurely sightseeing tour. They can’t seem to get out of second gear, and they are oblivious to the world around them.
Things are so arranged that one generally encounters these people just at the point where there is no safe place to pass for about 10 miles.
We rejoice when these people finally activate their turn signals, but in one final maddening act of defiance, they nearly come to a complete stop before they complete their turn, even though they have been proceeding at a snail’s pace all along. Even if there is a turn lane, they insist on remaining in the traffic lane, as if they had to make a wide turn like an ocean liner.
It also seems that no matter what speed one is traveling, one is bound to attract people who are determined to drive about 30 miles per hour over the posted limit, whatever that is. If the speed limit is 55, they are determined to go 85. They appear in one’s rear view mirror as a speck, then, seconds later, they are practically in one’s back seat.
Instead of passing, however, they hang on one’s rear bumper until one is sure they will rub all the paint off of it. Even if one slows down and moves over to encourage them to pass, they will doggedly stay on one’s tail for ages.
When they do pass, they do so by stomping the accelerator to the floor, and practically blowing their engine to bits while ignoring any oncoming traffic.
Some drivers fit into both the snail and maniac categories.
Out on the open road, I generally set the cruise control.
Traveling along at a consistent speed, I periodically overtake other vehicles.
When that happens, I move over and go around them, and then move back to the right lane.
For some reason, this triggers a competitive reaction in some motorists. They just can’t stand to have anyone pass them.
They may have been dawdling along at 45 mph in a 60 mph zone for miles, but as soon as someone passes them, they spring into action and accelerate until they are able to pass the offending vehicle.
Having done so, they immediately relax and drift back to their original speed, which, of course, requires one to pass them again, since one is travelling at a consistent speed.
Other crazy habits that one observes on the road include drivers who insist on pulling out in front of one, even though there is a huge gap in traffic to the rear, and then, having done so, they immediately slow down.
Others are determined to stay in the left lane, even when they are traveling more slowly than every other car on the road.
In this age of road rage, in which some people seem incapable of acting civilized in public, one hesitates to make light of these traffic woes. One would never advocate making rude gestures or otherwise engaging these maniacs of the motorways.
All the same, one can’t help wistfully musing about the deep sense of satisfaction that one might feel if one had a fleet of disposable cars and was able to gently nudge any road hogs we encountered safely off the road.