David Knopf: Speed limits interfere with stopping to smell the roses

02/04/2014 12:00 AM

02/04/2014 9:22 PM

I’ve contributed some fine insights over the years. They started in the late 20th century in Oklahoma, then continued, unabated, unrequited and at times scantly compensated into the 21st century in Missouri.

Most of these were personal revelations honed to a fine edge, then shared with the general populace, prompting many to say, “Hey, that was


idea first!”

My insights may not rise to the level of an Einstein’s, but they involved topics an average person could relate to better than some fancy relativity thing.

Take speed limits, for example.

Personally, I’m always surprised when I get pulled over. Not only do I hate paying fines and feeling guilty afterward, but I begin to concoct reasons why officers shouldn’t prey on law-abiding citizens who, in moments of harmless mind-wandering or listening to “Born to Be Wild,” temporarily lose track of their speed and begin to spontaneously celebrate life.

Hardly criminal, I’d say.

This happened to me in a town whose only visible means of support are tickets it issues and a fundraiser in which, for a buck, you get to guess who has the most nonfunctioning lawn mowers in his yard.

I was nabbed there for going 36 in a 25 zone, which contributed a quick $125 to the “Guess the Mowers” payout.

I could go on about how hard it is to go 25 mph without riding the brake, but that would only detract from my latest insight.

The crux of the matter is the eternal struggle between generalizing and being specific. As a person for whom being specific always came hard — my freshman comp teacher went through red pens by the gross writing things like “Good, but an example would help here!” or “Maybe support this with a fact or two?” on my papers. I’ve always preferred approximations to being exact.

That’s where speed limit signs come in.

I’m a slow driver, a dawdler even, who’ll never be accused of failing to stop and smell the roses.

I’d always assumed I was well within speed limits because a) I tended to drive slowly, b) I wanted to enjoy life, and c) I had to be ready to pull over to take pictures when the mood struck.

So I


confident I was driving within legal limits, even though I had no idea what the actual limits were.

My lack of specificity was compounded by the fact that police are notoriously not big on ballpark figures. Same goes for radar guns.

So last week, I began paying more attention to signs and realized speed limits are different everywhere. Not only do different towns have different speed limits, but the


town can have five or six depending on traffic counts, accident rates and how many “25 mph” or “35 mph” signs it happens to have laying around the shed.

I’ve tried to memorize speeds in specific places, but it’s a real challenge for a ballpark-figure guy like me. How am I supposed to pay attention to driving if I’m always looking for signs and trying to memorize them?

Being behind the wheel was once a relaxing time for me. But you try watching speed limits, counting lawn mowers and smelling roses simultaneously. I’m so tense I don’t know what would happen if I listened to Steppenwolf.


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