By AMANDA BENSEN
Published in The Post-Star (G2) 6/7/07
"You are speeding," an electronic sign warned me as I drove home on the Northway one night.
I slowed down to match the speed limit in the construction zone, but not without grumbling. Forty-five miles an hour seemed like a snail's pace.
But then I reconsidered my reaction -- what was my hurry, anyway? I had no plans for the evening, other than making dinner and catching up on some e-mail.
Americans are always in a rush, it seems.
We zip through fast-food restaurants to consume calories, then pop "instant weight loss" pills to get rid of those calories.
We'll honk at the car in front of us if they take a millisecond too long to hit the gas after the traffic light turns green.
We don't like to wait in line at the grocery store, so we'll take the self-checkout option even though we're stymied when the computer demands the produce code for broccoli crowns. We prefer ATMs and electronic passes to potentially slow bank tellers and tollbooth collectors. Some of us have even tried "speed dating."
I admit it -- I'm addicted to speed, too. But I've found that travel can be an excellent form of rehab.
In France and Spain, I learned to enjoy long, leisurely dinners and savor every sip of wine. In Austria and Germany, friends explained that a waiter generally won't bring the check unless you ask for it, because they don't want you to feel rushed. How nice.
In Africa, I learned that everything follows a tangibly slower tempo, from the pace of pedestrians on city sidewalks to the schedules of important events. When my friends and I showed up on time to attend a 4 p.m. wedding in Kampala, Uganda, we watched four other happy couples leave the church before things finally rolled around to our friends' wedding an hour and a half later. Instead of throwing a temper tantrum, the waiting bride and groom just shrugged their shoulders and smiled.
And on a 30-hour train ride across the face of India, I learned to enjoy looking out the window, chatting with strangers, and just laughing when the train inexplicably creaked to a halt for long stretches of time. Simple pleasures, like eating an orange or playing a card game, gained a new sheen of fascination in contrast.
My most recent trip was much less exotic -- a weekend of camping on an Adirondack lake -- but it also reminded me that it's important to slow down sometimes. Separated from my laptop, cell phone (which also serves as my watch), and car, it simply wasn't possible to hurry anywhere or even check the time. It felt wonderful.
I woke at sunrise and sat at the edge of the lake for a while, listening to the gentle gulping of the water against the rocky shoreline. I didn't have to be anywhere else, or do anything else.
Eventually, I paddled out in a canoe.
I didn't have a destination in mind, but I knew I was definitely not speeding.
-- Amanda Bensen is a features writer for The Post-Star. She only uses her car horn to scare ducks out of the road.