• Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
sunshine & unicorns: a blog about love, learning, and life in the upper midwest

26 May 2010

do you have a program like this in your city?

Do you drive aimlessly or without destination? Or when you get in the car, are you doing so because you would actually like to go somewhere? (And, you would like to go there TODAY?)

Pink Hubby and I are destination-seekers. We like to get there, and we like to get there in a reasonable amount of time. On average, I drive about 4-6 miles over the speed limit when the conditions allow for it. We don't have a lot of rush-hour situations in our city, and there are no interstates or belt-line highways running over or through it. (Come to think of it, there aren't any roads with more than 2 lanes in each direction.)

Yet, one of the biggest complaints I hear from people like us - in regard to traffic - is that it takes forever to get anywhere. Now, obviously we are spoiled. I'll admit to that. (The longest it could possibly take you to get across town at 5:00, on Friday night, if you're stopped at every traffic signal, is a half hour.) But the point still stands. In a town with a small-ish population, little congestion and wide, well-marked roads, many of us are fed up with how difficult it is to simply get from point A to point B.

I believe I know why.*

You see, there is an under-cover program in our city and surrounding region. If you're driving a large Buick, Lincoln, Mercury or Cadillac, you may asked to 'opt-in' to the program when you sign the papers to purchase your vehicle. I don't drive one of these brands of vehicles, so I'm not sure. These participants are called the "Bottlenecks". Additionally, the city uses traffic cameras to observe people's driving habits. They capture the license plates of certain drivers and contact them to enlist their participation in the program. These drivers are the 'Sleepers'**. They often drive drive compact or sports cars, small sporty SUVs, and others cars that 'look' like their drivers might be speedy.

To be a part of this program, you need to be very patient, and pretty clever. There are multiple roles that program participants can play.

It's easier to be a Bottleneck than it is to be a Sleeper. The Bottlenecks pull up to a corner on a major route, wait until their light has turned yellow, and peel out in front of the now-moving traffic. Then, they proceed to travel at a rate at least 7-15 miles below the posted speed limit, lining up dozens of previously-faster vehicles behind them. Bottlenecks never, ever take an unprotected left, or a right-on-red -- even if the cross-traffic is completely clear. And, two bottlenecks may drive side-by-side down a double-lane road, being sure to maintain a similar and reasonably slow speed. (I.E. If the speed limit is 40 mph, these program participants are permitted to travel no faster than 33 mph.) All the bottlenecks have to do is be present on the road.

2006 Mercury Grand Marquis
Typical bottleneck

Sleepers have the more difficult role because they actually need to play mind-games with other unsuspecting drivers. They have to be observant. They're the one car sitting in the right lane at the light you're approaching, when there are 15 cars waiting in the left lane. "Oh, this lane looks better!" you say as you pull into the right lane behind a fast-looking black Toyota Celica with tinted windows and a big spoiler and college stickers on the bumper. You cruise past all those poor schmucks in the left lane, thinking about how lucky you are. You'll make that doctor's appointment on time, after all! Then the light turns green, and all those left lane people sail right by you. Because the sleeper in front of you has dropped her sunglasses on the floor of her car, and she's simultaneously looking for them and changing her radio station and picking her nose and fixing her ponytail. Oh, and then when she starts to move, it's clear that this must be the first time she's ever been out on the road in a car with a standard transmission.

Potential sleeper

Sleepers are also the ones you see fast-approaching in the left lane when you're driving on the interstate, so you wait for them to go by before you merge out behind them to follow suit. Then, when they get you right up next to a long line of semi-trucks and campers you're trying to pass? They slow wayyyy down to the speed of the slow-lane traffic. Because they got a text. Or they have decided to eat their DQ Blizzard and drive with their knees for a while. Or they're assholes.

Or, they're earning their check from the city. Every sleeper and every bottleneck is paid to be a part of this program. For every driver whose progress they impede, they receive a specific rate. Bonus amounts are issues to sleepers who actually succeed in making all of the cars behind them miss the green light. Bottlenecks who keep a bulk of traffic behind them for more than a mile also make bigger bank.

The program feeds from the fact that there is no minimum speed limit in North Dakota, on any road. Yeah, you can drive a tractor or ride a moped on the Interstate (where the max speed is 75). You can not be pulled over for going too slow, and it's hard for them to get you for going too fast (because the cops are caught behind Bottlenecks too: Bottlenecks will block anyone, including fire trucks and ambulances blowing full-on sirens). I figure that some years ago, a team of police officers stuck behind a 1993 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight hatched this program out of their frustration. If citizens can slow the police down, why can't they slow each other down?! It's our city's way of keeping its driving population in line without the use of police presence or enforcement. It's pure genius.

*This is pure facetiousness. I do not actually believe that such a program exists.

**In the car enthusiast world, sleepers are actually cars that don't look like they're very fast, but in fact they are. In this situation, I've labeled them as the opposite.

Both photos from Edmunds.com.