A recent article about tech-Dracula Peter Thiel starts with a story about the billionaire leech as a young man flooring it on a deadly highway, cutting off fellow travelers as a point of practice. When he’s eventually pulled over he simply states that he doesn’t believe in speed limits and thinks they might be unconstitutional, and the cop just… accepts the explanation, wishes him well. This anecdote provides me some clarity on the hearts and minds of my fellow automobile pilots back here in the Northeast, an American frame of mind so rooted in rugged individualism and untouchability that it poisons the water table for the rest of society. Which is to say that the drivers here are some of the most insane death cult fanatics I’ve ever been subjected to.
Thiel’s passengers were clearly marked by this experience, but I can only see myself as someone sharing the road on that day and almost every day that I strap in for a spin around Boston. To drive the speed limit here is to court disaster like a hidden and slippery rock in a stream. Driving with defensive awareness is the only way to survive, and even then with residual mental and spiritual strain, as cars of every make and model weave through traffic, close up within inches of the car ahead, and cut each other off as a matter of practice rather than accident. To drive is to engage in mass madness, a complete failure of regulation and public safety, one of the most lethal activities we partake in with alarming nonchalance.
This isn’t how I was raised to drive in Wyoming. Though I came to my license later than most in the area, with hindsight I see now how lucky I had it out there. There’s still plenty of speeding beamers, trucks, and jalopies but much fewer and farther between, with the horizon almost always in sight and the clouds bending balletic across the way. Contemplating these memories as New England’s road warriors were grinding down my teeth to the last nerve, an old friend mentioned that American Truck Simulator was dropping some Wyoming DLC, so we hopped into the cab to evaluate this digital version of our old stomping grounds. Given that I was smitten with the game when it first came out years ago, I had some hope that we’d find a nostalgic solace in the expanded western maps.
If you are not familiar with American Truck Simulator, it actually simulates two things: driving a commercial semi to haul all sorts of stuff across the country, and running your own business in doing the same. I’m less interested in the business side of things, though it seems to manage all of that well enough—securing loans from the bank, buying trucks and equipment, hiring drivers, watching the money roll in. I’m keen to know if it allows for an employee ownership situation or a way to make sure your drivers are well paid without having to drive dangerous hours or through wildly unsafe conditions, but as of yet I am unwilling to dive that deep.
I’m in this convoy for the vistas, the big hauls, the roadside magic, even if it must refrain from truly mimicking the vastness of the time spent cruising those roads in real life. Aaron and I start with a drive coming out of our hometown Cheyenne, and we’re immediately hit with the small details that make up the city and area. From the patched asphalt, viaduct over the Union Pacific train station, the freeway ramps, it all felt instantly familiar and uncanny. We’re not driving through Google maps, here the various businesses and homes are fictionalized, and as we found driving from town to town, the miles tick by much more quickly. Between Cheyenne and Laramie we found the gas station town of Buford and the giant statue of Abraham Lincoln’s head, but it was missing the tree that’s growing out of a rock, and cruising past the summit and down into the valley was easier on the brakes and my knuckles than ever before. Also, the flora was maybe a little too green, the trees a smidge too plentiful. I’m not sure if snow pops onto the scene eventually but in reality blizzards are a threat eight or nine months out of the year.
These are quibbles though, as American Truck Simulator is painting a canvas rather than taking a photograph, using broad and fine strokes to amalgamate the often extreme experience of driving through the mountainous west without getting caught in the weeds of crafting a virtual or pseudo-realistic jaunt. Aaron and I agree that the game captures a lot of what sets Wyoming apart from the rest of the country, including a number of viewpoints and vistas and a challenging draw distance. We were sad to see that his mother’s home town was not to be found, but given that the game folds space to turn 40 miles into a five minute drive, it makes sense that not every dot on the map could be included.
As a truck driver, it’s understandable that I’d find myself getting passed more often than not, but the AI roadsters are more forgiving and sensible than many of my real life interstate neighbors. I got automatically charged for a late left turn into a red arrow but there was no traffic stop, and while I’ve seen cops pulling some folks over I’ve not had the courage to test their conviction with my own speeding just yet. Where the Northeast plunges every driver into a meaningless contest of wills and irresponsible gas consumption, American Truck Simulator assumes the best in people and driving. Breakdowns are easily resolved, mistakes a matter of relative pocket change, and I’m the only one on the highway who has ever honked a horn. It’s beyond simulation, cutting out the hours of dry vegetation, looming threat of engine or equipment failure, and stark fucking lunatics like Thiel. Would that reality could match, but until then it’s nice to have a digital place for leisurely drives past the prairie now and again.