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Duel redux


I was riding home for dinner the other evening, still struggling with the reality that it now gets dark just a couple minutes after noon, and approached the reviled roundabout not far from my house.

As I approached the traffic-calming device from hell, I was surprised to see, to my right, an 18ish-wheeler on the roll.

This is a quiet residential neighborhood, far from any commercial properties, so the semi seemed more than halfway out of place, but there has been a bit of construction in the area, so I guess it made some sense.

Anyway, I made it to the roundabout with the big truck still a couple of blocks away, so there was no conflict, but I didn’t wonder just how he’d manage to navigate the blasted thing.

As I pondered — and it takes great concentration on my part to ponder and pedal simultaneously — I gazed truck-ward and thought it was steaming ahead rather quickly. Coupled with the darkness, an aggressive silhouette and what seemed to be an excessive amount of running lights, the semi suddenly seemed sinister.

Just like that, my steel-trap of a mind churned and groaned and wheezed under an uncharacteristic workload, and I had an epiphany. Suddenly, I found myself living out “Duel,” a dandy television movie almost as old as me.

I stumbled upon “Duel” several years ago, late at night, as I recall. The premise of “Dual (The Driving Force is Fear)” is that a business man traveling through the California desert encounters a slow-moving big rig. The man — actor Dennis Weaver, and his glorious mustache — passes the truck, apparently infuriating the psychotic truck driver and setting off 90 minutes of awesome in which the two play cat-and-mouse at highway speeds. It’s actually quite good and quite suspenseful.

Dennis Weaver, his mustache, and "Duel," no doubt wishing cell phones were a little more prevalent in 1971.

Dennis Weaver, his mustache, and "Duel," no doubt wishing cell phones were a little more prevalent in 1971. by Andrew Hartsock

A decade or so later, I learned “Duel” was the movie-length directorial debut of a fella by the name of Steven Spielberg, who was something like 5 at the time (1971), used a tiny budget of $27.50 and shot the whole thing in 13 days. (In the interest of accuracy, I’ll admit here IMDb informs me Spielberg was actually 24 at the time and the budget actually $450,000, but the 13-days thing … true).

So with that connection made in my sick brain, I picked up the pace while glancing furtively over my shoulder to keep an eye on the deathmobile that, somehow, had successfully navigated the roundabout and WAS COMING RIGHT FOR ME!

I pedaled faster; Truck O’ Death kept coming.

I took a quick left; the rig — as in the movie, I never actually saw the driver — went left, too.

Hoping to offset my pedestrian pace with superior maneuverability, I zig-zagged and was relieved to see said sinister semi continue on … but a block later, I saw the wily psycho had simply taken a parallel course and was seemingly matching my pace.

The preternatural Peterbilt stood between me and my house, so I sped up, quickly jumped on the brakes, then cut a sharp right, passing just behind it as I sprinted for the safety of home.

I rolled to a stop in my garage and listened for what I was sure to come: the unmistakable growl of a diesel engine, maybe the eerie howl of an air horn, perhaps the destructive pavement-pounding force of Jake Brakes, but all I heard was the accelerated beating of my heart.

I know he’s still out there.

So if anyone knows of a nearby cliff where I can stage my final, climactic scene, please let me know.


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