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Vehicles drive on Highway 401 westbound in Kingston, Ont., on Jan. 11, 2019.Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press

I was driving along Highway 401 from Toronto toward Montreal on a bright Thursday afternoon. Ahead of me, there was a long line of vehicles filling both lanes. Two semi trucks were at the end of this traffic driving in perfect unison, like synchronized swimmers matching speeds in both lanes. These truckers had capped the traffic and had dozens and dozens of cars travelling behind them. No one could get by.

The truckers were doing it on purpose, of course. They had gotten on their Citizens Band (CB) radios and spoken in their CB language. One of the truckers had said, “Copy the 20, I got your back door.” The other replied, “Roger that, let’s block both lanes good buddy.” The other one said, “Big 10-4.” Then he drove his semi into the left lane and they both cruised at 100 kilometres an hour for what seemed like an eternity.

That, at least, was the fantasy I had while stuck behind them. It had to be intentional. I’d seen this move before many times. Two semi trucks side by side holding up traffic. It was part of a mass conspiracy by truckers to senselessly delay motorists. The small section of my brain that is governed by reason asked, “But Andrew, why would professional drivers, with jobs to do, indulge in such pointless behaviour?” The rest of my brain had an answer. Obviously, it was part of a collective perverse delight they got from controlling the road. The truckers probably had CB slang for it. If a police officer with a radar gun was a “Kojak with a Kodak” perhaps intentionally blocking both lanes was called “Double-Decking” or “Cap and Trap.”

My delusion was a case of highway paranoia, a manifestation of unsubstantiated suspicion fomented in the minds of drivers when they spend too much time on the road. Like a heat mirage on the horizon, highway paranoia seems real at the time but disappears on close examination. Its existence is one of the reasons that so many horror movies take place on highways and road trips. It’s easy to suspect nefarious motives of that seemingly innocuous vehicle that keeps passing you. On the highway we are out of our comfort zone and vulnerable. And so you have films such as Race with the Devil, Duel, Joy Ride, Wrong Turn, Coming Home in the Dark, Say Yes and Tailgate.

Horror movies are the product of screenwriters’ imaginations. Highway paranoia is a result of our need to project cause onto random effects. Those two semi trucks aren’t travelling side by side because that’s just what trucks sometimes do, it must be part of a conspiracy. The driver that keeps passing you and who you subsequently keep passing, can’t be minding their own business. They must be playing mind games. The driver who is going 80 kilometres an hour in the left lane can’t merely be oblivious, they must be taunting you.

City driving is also full of such irritants, but they disappear into the massive volume of infractions. In Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or any other big Canadian city, there are too many daily examples of bad behaviour to take personally. Out on the highway, however, the imagination allows them to take on a sinister quality.

They also help to pass the time.

The 10 minutes or so I spent contemplating the suspected semi truckers’ clandestine “Cap and Trap” move relieved me from the monotony of the 401. It was a nice change from listening to a “Civil War Talk Radio” podcast as well as a welcome respite from sifting through my collection of lifetime regrets and petty grievances. It was a paranoiac sorbet that cleansed my mental palate, preparing it for a return to “what ifs,” “yeah buts” and “might-have-beens,” along with a stopover at the Battle of Antietam.

And so, to the two truckers who had no idea of the asinine theory I concocted at their expense, I say, “10-4 good buddies.”

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