We've all been on freeways or highways or expressways or toll roads where someone comes speeding by so fast that it's like he had a rocket strapped to the bottom of the car, even changing from the far left lane to make an exit that is just 50 yards from the starting point. We've seen motorcycles -- hogs and crotch rockets -- shooting by with such velocity you wonder if the rider has no penis and therefore much to prove or maybe a death wish or maybe he just likes the wind in his hair and and face because the knucklehead isn't wearing a helmet. (I let the latter get well ahead of me so if he crashes and his head is cracked open like a melon, I don't have to see it. The former, well, I've been the former in LA when my sister or I realize we are at the exit we need.)
I've lived in major cities -- Detroit, New York, Chicago -- and have visited many others several times -- Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, St. Louis. Chicago is my home and only here have I seen the weird phenomenon that I've come to call the chasers. The chasers move in pairs and they move at speeds in excess of 75 MPH on the expressways.
Here is how it appears: One is driving north to meet one's friend who lives even further north for lunch at an intermediate point or one might be heading to shop in the suburbs. It's a nice day or else it's raining. It's sunny or maybe there's a cloud cover. The temperatures are blazing hot or it could be a perfect temperature with low humidity or hovering in the mid 40s. One has one's eyes on the road and is listening to NPR or News Radio 780 WBBM or classical music or classic rock. But one is driving about 5 MPH over the speed limit because that feels like a comfy speed and there are other cars on the road. Out of nowhere comes a car that cuts in front of one, drives about two car lengths, then cuts in front of the car in the right lane just ahead of one. He keeps driving and changing lanes, zigging and zagging through the traffic. That is alarming enough except he is followed by another car doing the exact same thing, maybe cutting left where the other went right because there is a little more room there. They are driving about 10-20 MPH over posted limits as they bob and weave off into the distance.
They are never driving expensive sports cars; the cars are always later model mid- to full-size sedans or coupes. It never seems to happen at night, only during the day. They are always white men. They are always over 30 years old. They never use their car horns or flash their lights. They never use hand gestures or even glance at anything other than the road. They mostly travel alone in their vehicles.
Regardless of where I've seen them -- the Edens, the Eisenhower, the Kennedy, Route 53 -- I always wonder "WTF?" Where do they originate, why are they doing it, what's the point of it, where does it end, and do they have a club? Do they find each other in old-fashioned newspaper ads ("Chasing driver seeks same")? Do they lurk around the Lake-Cook Road entrance to the Edens until they catch the eye of someone of a like mind and then go? Is there a seedy coffee shop in some suburb where they know to congregate and put their names on board to get a match? Might Craig's List offer them a meeting place? Is there cash involved or do they do it for bragging rights? Do their wives know?
The chasers exhibit the ultimate in control of their automobiles. They are steady, unfaltering, steely in their determination. I have never seen a chaser get into an accident (yet) but I suspect the second car would drive off, leaving the other to hang alone. The accident driver would, of course, be forbidden from chasing ever again and at the chasers' coffee shop, his name, picture, and a photo of his car would each bear the red circle with the line through it. There's the phrase "Honor among thieves," so there might be the same kind of system with the chasers. "He should have been more careful," the other chasers would say. "He broke the code and flipped someone off." "He smiled at a pretty girl. What was he thinking?" "He ran out of gas. You run the race, you don't run the race against your gas tank, too."
Two years ago, I was driving with some friends on the Edens, minding my own business in the center lane on a Saturday in summer with not a lot of cars on the road, the left lane wide open, when a chaser cut right in front of me. I was so startled that I actually cried out. "AH!" I cried. He wasn't followed by anyone which at first suprised me but made me believe they have an apprentice program. "Go from the Ogilvie Transportation Center to the Chicago Botanical Garden. Change lanes 200 times. We will be watching." Then they do watch -- from sidewalks on overpasses, from cars in the right lane, from buildings right on the Edens with the senior chasers watching with binoculars -- and decide if that person is ready for a pairing to travel the length of the Eisenhower, zipping around old ladies and nervous gang members and families, dreaming of their own personal NASCAR.
And like NASCAR, it's not a sport.