Road Denizens: A Taxonomy

I can’t stand the process of flying.  I don’t mean specifically the up in the air part.  That part’s ok as long as people adhere to the code of conduct.  But I have come to abhor airports, the ridiculous security theater, the waiting, the delays, etc.

I very much enjoy road trips though.  And while I’ve already packed this summer with more miles than Seattle has collectively experienced degrees of heat (Fahrenheit) I’m finishing off with an extended trip from Seattle to New Orleans and back. Due to my extensive experience on the road, I’ve developed a sort of taxonomy of various types of drivers one finds on the great American series of tubes.

Note that some of these types can indeed be found in the normal course of driving in a city, so the list is not meant to really be anything more than an amusing, and sometimes rage filled, look at who are the people in your Interstate neighborhood.

The Hippo

The Hippo is any type of truck with more than three axles, from dump trucks all the way to semi’s. Other countries designed their highway systems to have a dedicated truck lane, to minimize the dangers of mixing long tall vehicles and short squat cars.  Our highway system unfortunately is not as advanced.  By themselves Hippo’s are not a hazard, it’s when they congregate in groups both blocking your line of sight to road signs or creating mini traffic jams on inclines.  But by themselves, Hippos are harmless and indeed fairly essential to keep our economy moving.  I just wish we had a lane for them.

The Angry, Angry Hippo

The angry Hippo however, is a serious danger to everyone on the road.  This is a Hippo who is in a hurry.  It tries to pass other hippos in the passing lane on dangerous uphill slopes.  It swings into the left lane suddenly if it even detects the vehicle ahead of it in the right lane might be moving a mile per hour slower than it is.  Angry Hippos are the ones who are riding your bumper because at the moment they can’t get out of the logjam of cars, and thusly Maximum Overdrive tactics are the only way to change the situation. Occasionally, an angry Hippo will develop some weird form of vendetta.  That film was not a work of fiction my friends, but a documentary I can attest. Angry Hippos project menace from every single move they make.  They are to be feared.

The Rolling Roadblock

This one cracks me up when it’s not filling me with a rage that burns with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns.  It consists of two cars, one in the left lane and one in the right lane, who have set their cruise control for within .01 mph of each other.  Coincidentally someone has stolen their rearview and side mirrors, so that they have no concept of anything behind them.  Lastly, the feature of the rolling roadblock is that they have set themselves to the speed limit.  Thus creating a two car block that no traffic can pass until the one that is set .01 mph higher than the other eventually creeps a car length ahead.  These individuals are completely oblivious that another car is beside them, nor that they are holding up 50 cars behind them. Not paying attention to something behind you on the highway is perhaps a forgivable sin.  Not noticing, or not minding, a car keeping almost exact pace with your own for 10 miles right beside you is…creepy.

The Cruiser

This is me.  The Cruiser sets their cruise control and rides the road.  Anything that might cause an interruption of the cruise control (Hippos, Rolling Roadblocks, etc) results in exaggerated sighing, shaking of the head, perhaps even a throwing up of the arms before disengaging the cruise.  All in the hopes the problem ahead is looking in the rearview mirror and is appropriately chastened by your obvious display of frustration regarding their inadequate respect for your comfortable highway cruising speed.  The Cruiser might flash their brights as a preemptive matter before having to adjust the cruise, but only angry cruisers will use the horn. Cruisers typically have a GPS and are known to obsess over their projected arrival time. 

The Schizo 

The Schizo can’t quite make up their mind what speed they want to travel at, or what lane they wish to be in.  The Schizo changes lanes randomly and quickly, sometimes in the space of a mile.  Likewise the Schizo might travel below highway speed, above highway speed, or at highway speed, all in the space of 60 seconds.  The Schizo is of particular irritation to the The Cruiser and the Angry Angry Hippo, as you cannot predict their behavior and one might remain in proximity for many miles due to their sporadic speeding behavior.  The Schizo is often distracted by their cell phone or their ipod/stereo.  However I have encountered enough of them behaving this way for no reason to denote it as a class of road behavior rather than classify the specific cause of the behavior.

The Speed Demon

The Speed Demon is almost always a late model sports car or luxury vehicle with a prominently mounted $400 dollar radar detector.  The speed demon routinely travels at the speed limit+20.  By the time you notice a speed demon behind you and you decide to move over for them, they have already passed you on the right hand side.  There’s nothing you can really do or feel about The Speed Demon, except the “there but for the grace of god go I” feeling when you come across one 10 miles later, pulled over by a cop.

The Mobile Gated Community

These are your RV’s.  They deserve a class separate from Hippos in that they are fully and completely aware that they are driving a massively oversized vehicle for the American highway system and most (but not all of them) appear to feel every so slightly chagrined.  Most RV’s travel in the slow lane and to the extent they inadvertently cause a transient rolling roadblock when an Angry Hippo tries to pass them they have the good nature to shrug when you pass them with a kind of “Sorry, whaddya gonna do?” tone.  There is a very rare occurrence of the Angry, Angry Mobile Gated Community however to the extent they project menace, well let’s just say there’s a reason the vehicle in the rearview mirror in Duel wasn’t a Winnebago.


This is the cop sitting on the side of the road who doesn’t even have his radar turned on that causes all flowing traffic to slow by 10 MPH, even if no one was speeding.

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