gear down, big shifters
Imagine that three of us are driving down the same highway in our vehicles.
You’re a trucker. You drive an 18-wheel rig that hauls 80,000 pounds of goods. You’re big, maybe even the biggest out here. You haul 40 tons at a time, and you’ll haul those 40 tons about a million miles before you retire.
I’m rocking a Honda Odyssey minivan. 4 wheels, 4,000 pounds, 280 stampeding horses under the hood, and 4 dozen pairs of crusty, crumb-covered socks in the wheel wells.
See her, in the far lane? She’s in a Dodge Dart. 3,000 pounds, 160 asthmatic horses under the hood, and 33 sumptuous inches of leg room in the all-canvas interior.
Whenever you’re on the road with a minivan and a Dart, you definitely try to see us. You use those extra-big mirrors like they taught you in trucker school.
We see you, too. We can’t help it. You’re impossible to miss, big guy. We are constantly aware not only of where your truck is, but where it might go, and whether we are in danger of being crushed. We position ourselves accordingly, at a distance and where we can keep an eye on you, not necessarily because we have reason to mistrust the driver on a personal level, but because if the driver loses focus, gets distracted, gets tired, for even a moment… well. Bury me in the churchyard on a bed of crusty socks, for I would like to die as I lived.
Now, you're a nice guy and you care about being safe as well as keeping your job, so of course you're going to try not to hit anyone when you're driving. Problem is, you also have “no-zones” (large areas of zero visibility) the size of sectional sofas. That’s not a personal slam. I believe you check your mirrors. I also believe your size outmatches your mirrors.
Real talk, because of the size and strength of your vehicle, you don't have to think about where you're driving with the same level of vigilance as the driver of the Odyssey or the Dart. You’ll be upset, traumatized, and probably unemployed if you hit someone, but you will also be alive.
You have almost hit people more times than you know. The reason you don’t know, and the reason you didn’t hit those people, is because those other drivers were vigilant, too. No harm, no foul. Everybody did what they were supposed to do:
You checked your mirrors, like your teachers taught you.
We slammed on the brakes and swerved out of your way, like our teachers taught us.
And on and on we go.
I know that it takes a lot of focus and energy to remain constantly aware of the relative positions of every other vehicle on the road. Sometimes you get tired, big shifter. Sometimes you change lanes without making absolutely sure that you’ve got all the room you need to do it. It makes sense that you would. Chances are nobody will get hurt, and besides, you’re not the only one who needs to stay alert, right? It’s OUR responsibility to make sure we’re giving you plenty of room, right?
Gosh, I can see how it would be nice for you to only ever drive with other big rigs. These are your people. Every other vehicle around you is big and strong and heavy, too. You know you’ll be able to see them in your mirrors. Nobody is hiding in your “no zones.” There’s no threat of hurting someone who was just too dang small. You could relax.
Surely you can see that the Dart and I wish we could drive on roads free from 18-wheelers. I’m not saying “burn all the 18-wheelers, burn them to ash,” I’m just saying when I’m driving on a road without a 40-ton rig, I can relax a bit, too.
And I understand that when that Dart is on a road free from colossal 18-wheelers and big-ass Honda minivans, she can relax even more.
Because of our relative smallness, we have to think about where YOU are driving, always. Not out of courtesy, but out of survival. Drivers of smaller vehicles have to split their energy between navigating their own journey, and watching out for the big, unseeing trucks that could squash them no biggie.
It’s not personal. You’re just huge. We’re just not.
Remember how tiring it is to be constantly aware of EVERYONE’S position on the highway? You can keep driving when you’re tired and probably live to tell the tale. That’s not true of all the vehicles on the road. Yes, we are exhausted.
I want to be clear: You don’t drive an 18-wheeler because you're a blowhard or an asshole. You're probably not a blowhard or an asshole.
You just got the biggest vehicle. I just got a smaller one. She got a smaller one yet.
I need you to imagine what it's like to be in a Honda Odyssey on a highway surrounded by 18-wheelers, and we both need to imagine what it’s like to be in that Dodge Dart.
That's what it's like to try to have conversations about sexual violence, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, any kind of systemic oppression or hate, with people who haven't experienced those things personally. It's scary:
Will you stay in your lane? Will you see me in your “no zone”? Will I have to slam on the brakes or swerve to exit to keep from being crushed? Will you even notice me if I do? Will you yell at me for honking?
It's hard to explain to the driver of an 18-wheeler why the highway that he roars down with supreme confidence is a terrifying place for us. We know he's going to think we're just being silly.
Worst of all, it’s hard to explain to the driver of a Honda Odyssey that the highway that she thinks she understands as terrifying but navigable if you’ve got a good head on your shoulders is in fact a goddamn dangerous place for a Dart to try to travel, anytime.
Mama Minivan is going to think the Dart’s just being silly. She knows how it feels to be scared and smaller than someone. She’s on the Dart’s side, really. She doesn’t get that she’s big, too. She knows what big vehicles look like and she’s NOT IT, she thinks. We have to stick together against these big rigs, she thinks as she merges into the Dart’s lane without looking, then yells at the Dart for honking.
So gear down, big shifters.
Recognize that you’re viewing this landscape through the windshield of the tallest, biggest, strongest, heaviest rigs on the road. With great horsepower comes great responsibility. When you feel yourself getting too tired to stay in your lane or be careful enough to make the smaller vehicles on the road feel safe, pull the fuck off and get some rest. Your fatigue can well and truly fuck us up.
We know it’s only a matter of time before you almost merge on top of us. We’ll keep watching you no matter what. It’s not personal.
I know it’s only a matter of time before I almost crush that Dodge Dart over there. She’ll keep watching me, no matter what. I don’t take it personally. This is a matter of survival, not hurt feelings.
When you do merge thoughtlessly, recognize the impulse to get angry at the smaller vehicle for having the gall to be on the road with you when you made a mistake and almost hurt someone.
Remember that with great horsepower comes great responsibility, and that just because you take up the most space on this road doesn’t make you its king.
Remember that you don’t have to be an 18-wheeler to crush someone else.
Gear down, big shifters. And safe travels.
I’m going to try something new here:
I can’t wait to hear your “well actually” thoughts about the mechanical realities of 18-wheel long-haul trucks, horsepower statistics, and highway safety!!! Send them here; I’ll TOTALLY respond to all of them and be like wow thank you so much, because this post was 1000% about driving vehicles and not about privilege at all.