Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Life Goal: High-Speed Chase

PRELIMINARY NOTE: When reading this post, please keep this in mind - I know how to drive and I know the capabilities of myself and my vehicle. I won't do anything I'm not comfortable doing or has the possibility of causing harm to myself or others.

I have a mental list of things that I would like to do in my lifetime. I have referred to these as "life goals" (before "The Bucket List" movie existed). After the recent ordeal at O'Hare Airport in Chicago on Sunday, I am going to cross one of them off - be in a high-speed chase. The odds of myself being in a legit high-speed chase are pretty slim - neither being a police officer nor having criminal tendencies. I never really figured out what kind of scenario would place me behind the wheel being forced to keep all of my concentration on driving because everything depends on my performance. The trip to O'Hare on Sunday may be the closest I will ever come, so I am officially crossing it off of my imaginary list.

Recently (by coincidence only), I've been playing Project Gotham Racing 4 on the Xbox360, but I didn't realize that it was going to be like a warm up. Sunday, I got to live it (well, Saturday as a passenger in the Lamborghini and Sunday driving the Mustang). The last time I was in Chicago, I decided that I would rent a "cool" car to drive. When I go to Chicago, there tends to be a lot of driving involved since my brother and sister-in-law (Steven and Kim) live in a suburb in northern Chicago. I found that Hertz at the O'Hare Airport has the Ford Mustang as one of their "guaranteed" vehicles (as in you request a Mustang, you get a Mustang - not this "or similar model" bullshit with almost all of their other rentals).

I am not a "Ford person". My first car was a 1983 Fold LTD (if you guessed that the LTD stands for "limited", you'd be wrong, it actually is an acronym for "piece of shit"). After this vehicle, I vowed to never own a Ford again. The car was that bad. But, driving a Mustang for one weekend was not breaking my promise. It's a semi-sports car and I have never gotten to drive a car designed for fun and power. Plus I kind of wanted to see if Ford had made any advancements since the 1983 models. They have, but I'm still not going to buy a Ford.

The Mustang was fun to drive and has considerably more power than my 2003 Nissan Sentra, but the visibility is so poor that constant vigilance is required. Passing cars on the interstate was much more enjoyable, but (before Sunday) with all of the road construction in Chicago, there weren't many opportunities to pass, or drive very fast. But it was still fun and worth it even before the debacle. The bright spot in the day (in my opinion, probably not Megan's) was the drive from the suburb of Libertyville to O'Hare Airport. Mapquest posts the distance between the hotel and the airport as 29.25 miles with an estimated time of travel of 39 minutes (assuming the speed limit is not restricted for road construction). I would guess that with the speed limits dropped to 45 for nearly the entire route, that the trip should have taken at least 45 minutes.

Here is the Mapquest route.

Here is a crude representation of the route with the road construction marked in yellow.

Because of the construction, there were three lanes (one express lane and two regular lanes separated by cement barricades) and the barricades were also on the outsides of the lanes. There were intermittent shoulders in the express lane, but not on the regular lanes for most of the trip. When we left the hotel at 650am, I knew that we were going to be cutting it damned close in arriving at the airport. Nothing could go wrong or we would miss our flight. Our only chance to get there on time would be to do some fancy driving. Fancy driving I did (not that it ended up mattering in the end, but I didn't know how the day would turn out).

Just before getting to I-94, we hit a red light. After stopping and looking, no one was around - after a brief debate I gunned it through the intersection and sped onto the highway on-ramp not looking back. I made it into the express lane and got my speed up to the 90-95 range. This is a tight road with the construction with barriers on both sides of the lane, but I wasn't worried. Since it was still before 7am, there weren't many cars on the highway, but there were a few. Luckily, when I approached cars in the express lane, the shoulder became wide enough that I was able to squeeze the car by. That's right, I jammed on the gas and blew by cars on the shoulder of I-94. I managed to keep my speed above 70 even through the passing and kept the speedometer between 90 and 95 almost the entire way. I briefly touched off 100, but the road was just too narrow to drive any faster and not worry about slipping up and slamming into anything.

I hit the correct exit for the airport, slowed down enough to pay the toll and flew down the ramp to the rental return exit. Total time of the drive 23 minutes. Fuck yeah! That's an average speed of 76 mph. Actual speed limit for almost the entire trip - 45 mph. The city claims to have cameras up around the city to deter speeding. If, indeed, they do... I expect to get a handful of tickets - speeding, running red lights, speeding, passing on the shoulder, speeding. I hope that putting up the signs is just a method of deterring speeding and an empty threat, because otherwise... I'm totally screwed.

I have never driven like that before and the Mustang will have a special place in my heart for performing as it did. It was quite exhilarating to drive like a damned madman, but it's probably not worth it to do very often... if ever. I was too afraid to look over at Megan. I have no idea if she was scared to death that she was going to die in that Mustang, or if she was enjoying it, or if she was too upset/angry/worried about getting to the airport to really register any such feelings about the trip from the hotel to the airport. Maybe she will share her thoughts in the comments section...