The Seattle area traffic was light. A few hours earlier, at the peak of the Friday night rush hour, Interstate 405 had been bumper to bumper. Now, just after 7 PM, the road was crowded but moving freely. I had a killer commute, 40 miles each way, and I was thankful I had missed the worst of it. I spent a lot of time on the road and I understood how traffic ebbed and flowed in that same intuitive way that way someone who works on a river understands how a ripple on the otherwise smooth surface betrays the roiling currents in the depths below. On a Friday night like this, for example, I knew I was behind the great outward rush from the urban centers and into suburbs and just ahead of the second, smaller rush of people from the suburbs heading back into the city for an evening of food, fun and friends. To the west, the sun was sinking slowly into the Pacific while on the Earth, the hunt was on…
It was a good time to be out and about, the night was young and full of untapped excitement. I knew anything could happen as I headed south out of Kirkland, through the city of Bellevue and made the gentle ascent through the tunnel and up towards the I-90 interchange just south of the city. Once past the interchange, I had a good view of Lake Washington and the exclusive properties on Mercer Island on my right, and I began to slowly work my way down the hill towards Renton, still some miles to the south.
With Bellevue and the last big freeway interchange behind me, traffic was moving faster and spreading out. I was in the fast lane and my little red Dodge Shadow was running effortlessly along in 5th gear at just above the posted limit when a motion in my rearview mirror caught my eye. I read the scene with a practiced eye: A big Jaguar sedan weaving quickly through the already fast-moving traffic, overtaking car after car, its dark shape slipping stealthily up behind me. The driver was obviously having fun among the other, lesser cars and as he pulled alongside I glanced over to size him up.
He was a handsome man in his early thirties, clear-eyed, perfect hair and with jaw carved out of pure granite set with, I was certain, perfect, white teeth. Beside him sat a woman of equal beauty perhaps a year or two younger while another equally handsome couple occupied the back seats. They were all well dressed, both men in expensive looking suits and the women in fancy dresses with carefully coiffed hair. The car itself was a black XJ sedan and it showed a 6 liter V8 emblem on its back. It was a big, powerful and classy car, the perfect choice for the perfect man with the perfect life.
I pulled the Shadow out of 5th gear, zapped the throttle and stuffed the shifter straight into 3rd . The little engine roared in instant anger and the boost gauge swung hard right burying itself against the pin. The Shadow leapt forward, slamming me into the seat, and in a split second I was back alongside the big sedan. Surprised, the handsome, perfect man behind the wheel of the Jag glanced over at me and then tossed back his head and smiled as he said something to the others in the car. The lovely woman in the passenger seat tittered airily as she brought her hand up to her lips. I had seen enough, I mashed the gas.
The Shadow jumped forward and opened a lead of about two car lengths as its 2.2 liter 4 cylinder raced towards the red line. I quick shifted into fourth and pegged the throttle again as the Jag shot forward and made up the gap while my boost momentarily dropped with my RPMs. The road wound out in front of us, the two lanes of the interstate twisting as they made their way past the Coal Creek Parkway and down towards the May Creek exit at the bottom of the hill. We stayed there, stuck to one another, door handle to door handle as our speed climbed quickly into triple digits. Onward we went, the little 2.2 liter engine in my Shadow revving hard as I pushed the car for all it was worth. Red line came, then passed as I held it in 4th gear knowing that 5th was a big jump that would drop my revs too much and mean my defeat.
The big Jaguar and my little Shadow were still neck and neck as we hit the bottom of the hill, ran across a brief flat and then began to work our way up the long, steep slope of the Kennydale hill. Beyond the hill lay the city of Renton and its infamous S curves and already I could see traffic slowing as the typical back up on the approach to the city was beginning to build. There was still time to make my competitor stand down, I thought, but with the little car firmly in the red zone I knew it was past time to shift up or blow up. There was no choice and as I made the switch the Jaguar slipped smoothly away from me and up the hill.
I let off the gas and, thanks to the steep slope, my little car began to slow quickly. Traffic was still open enough for me to weave and dodge my way through at a decent clip as I continued to burn off speed without using my brakes while the big Jag had an easier time coasting back down to legal speeds in the car pool lane. We crested the hill and, as we made our way down towards the S curves, I could see a river of ruby-red brake lights growing ever nearer. Traffic slowed to a crawl and then ground to a halt. At the Renton city limits the carpool lane ended and the Jaguar was forced back into the crowded lanes. As luck would have it, we found ourselves stopped next to one another.
The handsome man’s perfect composure was wrecked and he sat there glaring out the windshield, both hands gripping the big car’s wheel so tightly the knuckles were white. A vein on his temple pounded, and the muscles of his magnificent, granite jaw bulged and pulsed as his perfect white teeth ground away at one another. The vision of loveliness in the passenger seat sat stiffly beside the man, arms crossed and her face turned away from him as she stared out the passenger window. The couple in the back seat were a different story altogether. They woman was smiling and laughing with real knee-slapping gusto while her man sat looking at me and my little turbo, the awe plain on his face as he tried to understand just what the hell happened.
Technically, I knew, I had lost the race when I the big Jag had finally used its superior muscle to pull away on the Kennydale hill, but he didn’t know that. To the perfect man, with the perfect girl and the perfect friends in the big, beautiful Jaguar I was the winner. Sometimes, that’s how it goes.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.