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« On the road again | Main | Riding a bike: Science or Natural Instinct? »

Asleep at the Wheel

It is no secret that when I left the bike business in 1993 I fell on hard times financially. It was the reason I had to give up framebuilding. People stopped buying road bikes in favor of mountain bikes.

My car reflected my financial status. It was a piece of junk, 1975 Mercury Staton Wagon. Not the one pictured here, mine was in much worse condition and in need of repair. Not the kind of vehicle one would take pictures to save and show to their grandchildren.

It did however come with certain advantages, it gave me right of way for one. On those six and eight lane freeways they have in Southern California it is necessary to make several lane changes long before your exit. People are not too good at letting you do this, you are forced to just put on your turn signal on and ease on over.

I found with a car like a beat up 1975 Mercury Station Wagon people tended to give way real quick when I started to change lanes. He who has the least to loose, has right of way, it’s an unwritten law.

A big disadvantage with my old clunker, the air conditioning didn’t work, but in Southern California I could manage without it. Although the climate is hot, the air is dry and driving with all the windows down was actually quite pleasant.

My arm resting on the top edge of the door, my hand on the rear view mirror, the breeze blowing up my shirt sleeve keeping my body’s natural cooling system, namely my armpit, working efficiently.

The only problem with this form of nature’s air conditioning is that it broke down at any time I went below speeds of thirty miles per hour, which on LA’s freeways is most of the time.

Something I find hard to understand. Everyone knows how difficult it is to sleep in a room without air conditioning on a hot summer night. You can’t sleep because you’re hot and uncomfortable.

How is it then, under the exact same circumstances, driving a car on the freeway you can’t stay awake? Aren’t you even more uncomfortable than you are in bed without air conditioning? So why does the discomfort not work for you when you most need it to stay alert?

One time, the freeway I was on went through a steep canyon when traffic came to a standstill.

There was no exit, and I was in the fourth lane of a six lane freeway. I was stuck.

I could see traffic was stopped two or three miles ahead up a long gradient, it would be a while before we moved again.

It was late afternoon and I started to feel sleepy. I decided not to fight the urge to doze, I turned the engine off and lay down on the front bench seat. This was another advantage of these old cars, the front seat was like a sofa with no obstruction in the center. The person behind me would be sure to lay on the horn when we started moving again.

I have no idea how long I slept but I awoke to find traffic was moving by me on either side at about twenty-five or thirty miles per hour. The person behind me instead of alerting me when traffic started moving must have decided to go around me.

People following seeing no one in the driver’s seat (Because I was laying down.) assumed it was an abandoned vehicle and continued going around me.

I had just discovered another advantage of my chosen mode of transport. A person can lie down, take forty winks in the middle of a six lane freeway and people will let you rest and simply go around.

My unusual afternoon nap had refreshed me enough that I was now fully alert as I completed the final leg of my journey. Had I brought ‘Sleeping at the Wheel’ to a whole new level?


This article was first posted April 2012

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Reader Comments (4)

Hi Dave, I used to have a 1962 full size Chevy pick up truck. It was three different colors of primer along with a faded blue green paint. It was sort of ugly, but very reliable. People used to get out of my way no matter where I went. My hair was half way down my back ( the style of the day) and people must of thought I was just another pot smoking Hippie. I later sold the truck to my friends gardener. Great times back then.

February 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Good story Dave - thanks

February 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

There's an old story about (framebuilder) Albert Eisentraut. He too had a crummy old station wagon. He stopped for gas in the old days when there was an attendant. The guy looked at Albert's credit card and then Albert's car. He said, hey, you're Albert Eisentraut! You're famous! Why are you driving a POS like this???

February 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMaynard Hershon

I am reading the full story of asleep at the wheel and thinks that it is quite old story. I think we should update the whole thing and change with some creative ideas.

December 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChris Northey

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