On Driving a Prius in Alabama

I think I’m at nine.

Nine times I’ve seen it – the fabled Bird, the One Gun Salute, the Middle Finger. Stuck out the crack of some tinted truck window (usually a black pearl GMC Avalanche, a blue Chevrolet S-10, or a white Ford F-Insert Any Number Here), not even really aimed in my proper direction, just sort of hung out there in the wind for anybody and their children to see. If their hand was a weapon we in the Marine Corps would call this “flagging our buddy”.

Usually, this scene follows right on the heels of the same classic combo: here I am, driving the speed limit, probably speeding up or slowing down to merge onto a two lane highway with a speed limit of 50 MPH. Here comes the truck, going about 10 MPH over; I try and merge – as they’re a good distance behind where I’ll hit – they see the Prius, they roar to life and tear past me on the right, then cut me off mere feet in front of my front bumper, punching the gas and lurching away gleefully as I lay on the horn.

Then there’s the Bird. I’ve actually come to expect it now. I wait, examining the driver’s side window, wondering if I’ll get lucky. Wondering if I’ll get that receding window, that pale white hand with the pronounced knuckles and the visible hair, the anonymous profile of some guy in a baseball cap, his other hand draped over the wheel, his chin down towards his chest.

So far, I’m at nine. Nine times out of eleven or so occurrences. I’m lousy at math, but my handy Windows calculator tells me that’s almost an 82% success rate. 82% of the time I try and merge onto the highway, if there’s a truck anywhere behind me on the intended lane, I’m going to get told to go fuck myself. That’s not the fun part, though.

The fun part is: we’re at nine times out of eleven since I’ve moved to Huntsville, Alabama.

Prior to Alabama, I’ve never been given the Bird while driving in my entire life. Not once.

*

We came to Huntsville in September of 2016, west from our previous residence in Georgia. Augusta wasn’t a great place to live (sorry, Augustans) and we were ready for a change. For a month or so we thought that our next stop was going to be Maryland – the company I worked for had a position there (supposedly, though I never saw anything in writing) and we were ready for a life where the seasons changed and winter was more than a couple crummy mornings in January.

Huntsville beckoned. A job offer bloomed; better pay, better hours, more established company. We took it hook line and sinker, and at the far end of a lot of drama (involving movers showing up while we were in the Pacific Northwest on holiday, my faithful PC Zombie being packed with a garden brick in a box, and wonderful contractor drama including hours worked) we found ourselves here, in the Rocket City, in a brand new apartment situated at the bottom of some wooded hills.

Huntsville is a pretty good place. It’s got some growing pains (where the town is trying to push out previous generations of urban sprawl) and is marred by hideous telephone lines, but I think overall it’s going in the right direction. We’ve got great food, there’s a new natatorium coming in, they are building a big majestic entrance to the Botanical Gardens, the downtown area is being revitalized with shops and restaurants. It’s also a hubbub of science and technology; NASA is here, as is the military. Computer science, rocket science, hell, we’ve even got the nation’s biggest independent arts collective with the Lowe Mill Art Studios. Overall, the older neighborhoods are well maintained, and the cost of living is excellent. You can get a five bedroom house with three bathrooms on a hill for $250,000.

The sunsets are the color of salmon. Gentle hills surround the city, and Nashville is a paltry two hours to the north. People are friendly. They play cornhole on the sidewalks and speak to each other over dinner. Children say ma’am and sir, Sundays people are dressed especially well. All in all, things here are great.

Until I get on the road.

*

It’s not a truck today.

I’m not sure what it is. Some blue car from the nineties, if I had to guess. Slick back and a wide frame, with black tinted windows and a bearded driver I can see in my rear-view mirror. I’m coming up on the Parkway, speeding up as I arc in towards the outer lane. He sees me. He punches it, cropping up behind me like the T-Rex out of Jurassic Park. I get the merge in the hundred or so feet that I am afforded; he roars to the right of me and then swerves in front of me. His rear is two feet from my headlights. I lay on the horn. Out comes the hand. I give it right back, praying to God he can see me in his mirror. I make sure I smile at him.

*

We bought our Prius in 2015, right before the New Year. Our last car (affectionately nicknamed Coral) was totaled by a white Ford pickup truck that rear ended Amanda as she slowed down for a yellow light. (The truck was going a cool 65 MPH, enough to knock her out and across the intersection, ditching the bumper in the asphalt amidst a constellation of shattered plastic.

We were proud of our Prius. It was the first car that we ever really bought; USAA furnished the loan, mom drove the bargain and we drove the Prius off the lot with its new car smell out into the sunset. It was like a spaceship to us. It had working air conditioning (another story for another time), decent speakers, a luminescent readout, and didn’t use gas if we went under 25 MPH. We drove it home from Florida (an eight hour drive) and within a week or two, drove it up to Indiana (a twelve hour drive) to visit Amanda’s family for Thanksgiving.

It was Thanksgiving night, we were in her parent’s house. Scott and Wendy were entertaining their guests, we were doing our part, milling around and smiling, trying our damndest to be social. Someone – who I’ll go ahead and leave unnamed – comes into my vicinity and says, “Who’s driving the Prius?”

I tell him proudly that I’m driving the Prius. He scoffs.

“Man, I hate those things,” he says. I ask him why. He sips his beer and gives me a ‘you should know better’ look. He speaks again. “I don’t know why. Something about the acceleration. I just can’t stand them.”

Good to know, Mr. Anonymous. Not that I asked, or even cared about your unsolicited opinion.

But good to know, nonetheless.

*

I wish I could say this was a unique occurrence. A once in a lifetime oddity. A flash in the pan. A single snap of bacon grease in a big, bountiful Saturday morning breakfast.

It wasn’t. It’s happened multiple times. People go out of their way to tell me how much they hate my car. Once, it was a family member. Amanda was speaking to her about how excited she was to have our new car. This Anonymous family member proceeded to tell Amanda how “gross” a Prius was, and asked her, “Why would you get one?”

Another time, I was standing outside my office, waiting for Amanda to arrive. A co-worker (whose name I honestly don’t even know, as I’d never spoken to him before, so we’ll call him the Unbeheld) approached me as he sucked on a cigarette. Here’s how our interaction went.

THE UNBEHELD: “So how do you like your Prius?”

ME, THE UNWORTHY: “It’s great! Why?”

THE UNBEHELD: “Man, I hate those things.”

ME, THE UNWORTHY: “I mean I drove to Indiana and back and it cost me $42 round trip.”

THE UNBEHELD: “You know, I once sat down with a woman who bought a hybrid. I charted out with her exactly how much money she was spending on it and on its upkeep and compared it to how much she was supposedly saving on her gas prices. I showed her how it was actually costing her money to have one, since it has no resale value.”

ME, THE UNWORTHY: “Wow! Well. I love my car. My wife is here.”

End scene. I hop in the car and drive off with Amanda. She’s listening to a book on French parenting on audiobook. I stab the pause button on the console and tell her, in irate terms, about my interaction. I tell her (for the tenth time) how this is the tenth time someone has come up to me and offered me their unsolicited thoughts on the vile nature of Prius’.

We’re in the middle of the highway and our conversation when we hit the highway. Speed limit is 70; Amanda is cruising along in the middle lane at 73. Folks are passing on the left. She comes up on a pickup truck, probably going somewhere in the 60s. She signals left, goes to pass, and as soon as we creep up into his view, I see the driver notice us. I see him turn his head, then snap it forward. The truck thrums to life and he speeds up. We can’t pass without getting to 77. Amanda slows back down to 73. He slows back down to 60 something.

We exit soon thereafter. I have a headache.

*

All of this is just to say:

I don’t really care that you don’t like Priuses.

If you don’t like the Prius, don’t buy one. If a Prius is driving faster than you on the highway, it’s okay if it passes you and your huge, gas guzzling truck. I’m sorry to offend your candy-wrapper masculinity by being a man who drives a hybrid; I bought it with my own money plus a loan. I bought it because we’re frugal. I bought it because I think trucks are ugly, and if I had a dream car it would probably be a Lexus or a Range Rover. I don’t have the money for a Lexus or a Range Rover right now, and if I did I still wouldn’t blow that money on a Lexus or a Range Rover. I’d spend it on the stuff we need for our house. I’d throw it at my student loans, at the credit card debt, at savings. I’d invest it; I’d buy stock or maybe just finally buy the couch we desperately need but haven’t yet been able to afford.

It’s rude to offer your unsolicited opinion to someone, whether it’s on their choice of vehicle or their choice of religion. It’s rude to flip someone off on the highway. It’s rude to see someone trying to pass you, then speed up just to deny them…what? Time? A position ahead of you on a highway that stretches across states? Pride? Don’t you have anything better to do?

I heard a lot of awful things about living in the South prior to coming down here. I wish people would stop validating the stereotypes.

We have nice sunsets, after all.

Why don’t we talk about that?

-R

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