By BEN R. WILLIAMS
I have long been of the opinion that one of the few truly altruistic acts is flashing your high-beams at someone to signal danger.
When you flash your high-beams to warn an oncoming driver of a car accident (or a state trooper camped out looking for speeders), you’re doing someone else a solid with no expectation of any kind of return. No one will ever thank you for it. No one will even know who you are. It’s just a compassionate thing to do.
But the highways can also, unfortunately, offer people a place to unleash their venom. I saw a great example of this the other day, a phenomenon I’d heard of before but had never seen in person.
I stopped at a gas station on 220 and while I was filling my tank, a jacked-up pickup parked nearby. The rear window had a number of stickers attached to it: “Let the smoke roll,” “Guaranteed Prius repellant,” and of course, the classiest of them all, “Black Smoke Matters.”
A hulking man descended from the truck, looking a bit like an ancillary character from a Pigeon Forge country comedy dinner show.
I had finally spotted a coal roller.
If you’re unfamiliar, “rolling coal” is when someone modifies a diesel engine to adjust the amount of fuel entering the engine. When you increase the amount of fuel, it doesn’t fully combust, thereby allowing you to blow choking black clouds of exhaust fumes into the air. Some people even install big smoke stacks coming from their exhaust to make the effect more dramatic.
“How is that legal?” you ask? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it isn’t; it violates the Clean Air Act. Some states have more specific prohibitions on the practice, but laws against rolling coal don’t seem to be all that heavily enforced. This is partly because trucks that have been modified to roll coal generally have some kind of toggle that lets you switch back and forth between your regular exhaust and your horrible exhaust, allowing you to blow smoke at the flip of a switch.
So why would someone spend literally thousands of dollars to modify their truck to roll coal?
The answer: to be a jerk.
No, really. That’s it.
Rolling coal doesn’t give you extra horsepower when you need it. It doesn’t increase your torque. It doesn’t do anything but create a black cloud of soot.
From what I’ve heard, one of the most popular activities for folks who roll coal is to get in front of a Prius or another hybrid or electric car, flip the switch, and envelope them in a choking, visibility-reducing black cloud. This, the coal roller feels, is an appropriate punishment for someone who has the gall to care about the environment or wishes to save money on gas.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a car guy. I especially love old Cadillacs. My dream is to one day own a massive 1959 DeVille or an early 1970s Eldorado ragtop. These were hulking cars with enormous, wildly inefficient engines, and I love them dearly. And while my environmentalist side is excited by the rapid advances in electric vehicles (I fully predict that the upcoming Ford F-150 Lightning all-electric pickup is going to usher in a sea change in the automotive world), I also want a future where I can still drive an antique 20-foot gas-guzzling sedan with plush seats, a wood grain dashboard, and sixteen ashtrays.
No, what I find offensive about rolling coal isn’t just that it’s bad for the environment. Every coal roller in America likely produces less pollution in a month than a single large cruise ship produces in one day (I realize that sounds crazy, but cruise ships are one of the worst things we’re doing to our planet right now, and it’s not like there’s a lack of competition).
No, what I find offensive about rolling coal is that its sole purpose is allowing someone to be a jerk to a stranger they disagree with. It is a microcosm of everything wrong with American society. It is the perfect example of the venal and ignorant forcing their beliefs on normal folks who are just trying to live their lives.
If you don’t like hybrid cars, don’t buy one. If you like eating meat, don’t become a vegan. Disagree with gay marriage? Then don’t have one. As long as the people around me aren’t doing something that affects my life in a negative way, I truly don’t care.
In the unlikely event that a coal roller is reading this column, please don’t be offended. Simply think of my words as a black cloud of smog, and think of your little feelings as a Prius.