Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Get the "lead" out

It’s been a while since my last post. Sorry about that. This has been an extremely busy summer. Among other things, my family and I moved from the valley to a home in the nearby mountains—which, consequently, leads me to my thought for the day.

A couple of weeks ago, early on a Sunday morning, we were driving “down the hill” and, as is often the case, we found ourselves in a winding line of cars accordioned together by a slow vehicle in the lead.

The shortest route connecting our small town to the valley below is a two lane, state highway. There are four, brief segments over the fourteen mile stretch where the road widens, providing an opportunity for motorists to pass slower vehicles. In addition, there are dozens of “turn-outs” along the road. Signs are posted, encouraging slower motorists to use these “turn-outs.” Funny, no matter how long the line of cars behind them, few of the slower drivers seem to recognize that these signs refer to them.

There we are, riding our brakes down the twisting mountain road, praying the hunter green minivan in the lead will take the not-so-subtle hint. Alas, no such luck. So, we wait in restless anticipation for the next passing lane. Sadly, however, if one finds oneself more than two vehicles behind the lead car, the chances of passing the offending tortoise are sketchy at best. Hairpin curves and steep grades present a worthy challenge even for the most skilled drivers. Often, only a vehicle or two break away. The remaining seven jockey aggressively in a 20 second free-for-all, eventually settling into a new, but equally frustrating configuration.

A small, white sedan that had been veraciously tailgating our minivan pied piper eagerly passed at the first opportunity. I watched in envy, fully expecting the car to slip quietly away into the serpentine distance. On the contrary, we watched in head-shaking resignation as the sedan settled into a pace negligibly different than that of the minivan. I might have been surprised if I hadn’t witness the same phenomenon countless times before.

As the noxious stench of burning brake pads wafted inexorably through the morning air, I thought to myself, “dissatisfied followers make lousy leaders.” How many people make it a life theme to discredit, defame, second guess, and work around those out-in-front? But, when granted the reigns, either by gift or by coups, they demonstrate a keen lack of innovation or meaningful direction.

A few miles ahead, our not-so-merry band of travelers caught up to another small string of vehicles, held captive by a large RV. The driver of the behemoth, more considerate than many, pulled over into a suitable turn-out and the now lengthy parade of motorists made their way past. Both cars that had initially been trapped behind the RV resumed a tempo quite a bit brisker than the white sedan had previously maintained. You guessed it! The driver of the white sedan began hugging the tail of his leader—exercising the tenacity of a would-be revolutionary, desperate to triumph over his malicious oppressors.

The simple truth is that most people—in spite of all the complaining, the character aspersions, the social tailgating—need a leader to follow; an official pace car, if you will. It’s much easier to apply the pressure than it is to deal with it. Ask Governor Schwarzenegger.