How to master the dreaded Fife Curve on the I-5


I’ve driven the I-5 stretch between Tacoma and Federal Way over 5,000 times. I’ve learned a lot of things I wish I didn’t know. Things I wish went into more useful skills. Like how how to threaten Xfinity with quitting so that they’ll give me a lower rate.

What is this that I have achieved? It is how to have true UNAGI on the I-5.

What is this Unagi? It’s freshwater eel. It’s salmon skin roll. It’s a concept. Let Ross from Friends tell you, “A state of total awareness. Only by achieving true Unagi can you be prepared for any DANGER that may befall you.” Also, he’s very clear that “it’s not something you are, it’s something you have.” Full disclosure: Ross gets beat up on a lot in that episode. Ha! Every episode.

So when the I-5 is yelling DANGER? What do you do?

First, a disclaimer: I’m originally from California. This means I put a “the” in front of “the I-5.” I’m not sure if that gives the road more or less respect. I hope less. Either way, I get made fun of by my Washington friends for saying the “the,” and by my California friends for not saying the “the.” But I like getting made fun of though, so I win. UNAGI.

Because of my heritage, I drove too fast for the first five years of living up here. Then the daily slog wore me down and now I go 53 miles an hour in the fast lane like everyone else. Now I only get speeding tickets when I’m trying to safely pass semi-trucks. UNAGI.

I’m like a forest tracker. The smallest broken twig tells me the greater story of what’s going on. The slightest swerve of a swervy McSwerverson. Troubles ahead. UNAGI.

The Fife curve is my favorite place to cultivate my skills—an abomination of brake lights and busted-down beaters.

It is literally the opposite of Furious 7. Fast 5. Pick one, I don’t care. I love Fife curve on the first hot day in July, when all of the old cars break down. I love it on the first cold day of winter, when all of the old cars break down. The multitudes staring down at phones just trying to get home. Unaware of the danger.

Crazy speeding old car by the Tacoma Dome at 8 in the morning? 7000% chance that it is pulling off at the Emerald Queen Casino. UNAGI.

First sunny day? All of the accidents on the Puyallup River Bridge. UNAGI.

The slow lane? That my friends, is the actual fast lane. Say it with me. UNAGI.

Too many teens on the road at the end of day rush hour? Taylor Swift concert at the T-dome. Say it louder. UNAGI!

Person switching lanes 50 times in a mile? Meth! Pray they are wearing clothes. Whisper it gently so the danger doesn’t hear you: unagi.

Loaded down hatchbacks crowding traffic on a Friday? End of the college term. Little bit louder: Unagi.

Swerving, slowing down speeding up college girl with big sunglasses, holding the steering two inches from her face at 7 in the morning? Day drunk from her party last night. Call the cops. Tell them #truestorybro. Unagi.

Driving on the 16 in Gig Harbor? Stay in the fast lane, because there’s no time for this unWashingtonian tactic of “merging” by Wollochet. Unagi.

Driving on roundabouts in Gig Harbor? Use an armored car. Unagi.

Your kids about to learn how to drive and you live next to the roundabouts like l do? Move to a new house. All of the Unagi.

Carpooling with your sister and she thinks she knows the fastest lanes to choose home? Let her try and fail. That’s not unagi. That’s salmon skin roll.

But what do you do when danger is far away and you’re bored?

I play the “How many people can I let merge” game. I’m hoping this will rub off on those surrounding me and everyone in Washington state will learn this strange term. This “merging.” Maybe it will answer the question, “What is that empty lane over there?” What’s that one car doing in it? That one car…is me. Unagi.

But what happens when you don’t heed the signs, and someone goes all mad max on you?

Here’s my little formula that may or may not have the results you want. I call this the Dane Cook. Because even if it’s funny it will still make people hate you:

1. Someone flips me off. I do the miss America wave.

2. They re-bird me. I wave a second time. They noticed! I’m honored.

3. They bird me so hard. My wave gets slower and more graceful. I should be sitting on top of this car I’m driving so pretty.

4. They pull up next to me. I make a “hold on a minute” sign with one hand, and use the other as a pretend cell phone, which of course I have to answer. I think it’s Xfinity, I need to haggle for a bit.

5. Their face melts. I do tiny baby cry fists then get off at the next exit and hide for ten minutes. Don’t hide in a fast food bathroom. They will find you.

Before you try this move, just know that I’ve had no less than three people get out of their cars to fight me in my lifetime. I’ve gotten out of my car zero times. Okay, I’m lying a little bit. Here’s when and why they wanted to hurt me:

1. I was in college, driving with Brian Wainwright in Pacific Grove, California and cut a guy off. He’s yoked up and bald and big and pulls off to a 7-11 and gets out of this car and is yelling for me to do the same. I don’t and he gets in his car and chases us. I end up hiding in a KFC drive-thru.

2. Driving with my high school girlfriend in California and I stop at a yellow light because teen driver. The car behind me follows me to the gas station I was going to. As I park, out comes a very large lady dressed in full sailor dress uniform, tilted hat, kerchief, the whole bit, and she’s hitting the trunk of my car with her hand, “Get out the car right now so we can settle this!” I did not settle, I just sat in my car until she got tired or hurt her hand and went away. This took longer than I wanted. My girlfriend was not impressed. Her name was Mandi. With an “i.”

3. On the 16 in Tacoma. Cut a guy off. See the pattern? Then I immediately get stuck in traffic. The guy behind me leaps out of his car on the 16 during rush hour. Granted, traffic was stopped, but all I can think is “Meeeeeeeth! And “I’m gonna diiiiiiie.” But thankfully a state trooper whoop whooped the guy and got on his loudspeaker and told him to get back in his car. I took this opportunity to drive on the shoulder and get off on the exit to hide in the Target in Tacoma.

And that, my friends, is the truth. You know that because I ended up hiding in a Target.

Now go forth and Unagi. Because if you don’t a large sailor lady will make you look dumb in front of your girlfriend who spells her name with an “i.”


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