I’m not sure if the same can be said about the road of life, but on the literal road I prefer leading to following.
It provides for an interesting dynamic, following another’s car. The leader must always be cognizant of the follower, especially when it comes to speed, lane changes, and going through yellow lights. My constant awareness of the person behind me and willingness to sacrifice my usual driving techniques is what makes me, I believe, a pretty good leader.
But there is also responsibility on the follower, who must navigate the timidity of defensive driving with the subtle aggression of staying behind another vehicle. It’s also important that the follower develop a rapport with the leader because when these two drivers are in harmony, it becomes a virtual orchestra of driving beauty in which a synchronized blinker provides the beat.
But that is rare. A few years ago I followed my father-in-law from New Jersey to Pittsburgh. It was a seven-hour drive that mercilessly fluctuated between 92 mph in the left lane and 48 mph, also in the left lane, the difference in speed a result of whether or not he was on the phone or trying to find a protein bar in the console. (It should also be mentioned that when my father-in-law is reluctantly forced to follow me, he does very bizarre things like refusing to stay in my lane and driving way ahead of me and using his indicator to show me which way he thinks we should go, all for the sake of proving that he follows NO MAN.)
Of course, the context for this typically involves a general uncertainty about the whereabouts of the destination. For most of my life, I did not consider there might be an etiquette to leading when everyone knows where they’re going. I was dating my wife when she was following me back to her parents’ house. I wasn’t trying to lose her—NOW’S THE TIME TO MAKE MY ESCAPE—but rather became less and less aware of her whereabouts, subconsciously understanding she knew the way. Nothing was subconscious, however, about her reaction when we arrived: “What’s your problem? Leaving me in the dust like that? WHAT IF SOMETHING HAPPENED?”
I’ve since adjusted my ways, although I have to admit I often feel my wife has to step up her following game. Although her extreme cautiousness is commendable, it makes it very difficult to lead.
Case in point: We picked up my in-laws at the airport, and my father-in-law rode shotgun with me while my wife drove her mom and the girls. Exiting Sky Harbor can be a bit tricky, and my wife felt uneasy about it, so I tried my best to keep her in sight. But there were lane closures and a lot of airport traffic, and she got lost in the shuffle. Still, I slowed to an absurd crawl after merging, cars whizzing by left and right, but I did not see her. What is she doing? I thought I finally caught a glimpse before hitting the highway, and felt reassured she noticed me and was on her way.
Merging onto I10 out of the airport is no picnic, and it’s not something you can do at 40 mph. It’s a sensory overload—202 HERE; 10 EAST THERE; WHO LIKES THE 51?; STAY IN THIS LANE FOR THE SEVENTEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN—and I had no choice but to go and try to let her catch up on the 17.
And I tried. There I was, doing about 45 in the right lane, my eyes glued to the rear view mirror as my father-in-law, unaware of how slow I was going or that anyone was even following us, told me a story about how he convinced a Cox customer service rep to sing to him in Italian over the phone. Meanwhile, in the car I could not find, this was going down:
Mother-in-law: What is he doing? Where are they?
Wife: I don’t know, MA!
Girl 1: Mommy, I-
Wife: GIRLS! QUIET DOWN—YOUR FATHA LEFT US ON THE HIGHWAY.
Mother-in-law: Him and your fatha … I tell ya’. Listen, he’s driving way too fast, what can I tell ya. But I’m not gonna say anything … I just got here.
When we arrived at breakfast, my wife wasn’t as reluctant to say something. Turns out I am the only one who thinks I am a pretty good leader. Oh well. There’s always the road of life, I guess.
Note: This column appears in the 1/22 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/23 issue of the Peoria Times.