Copyright 1999 W. Bruce Cameron
Bruce lost his day job! (Amazingly, operating a free internet newsletter has yet to make him independently wealthy.)
What's Bruce going to do now, and why should you care? The answer can only be found at http://www.wbrucecameron.com/ccnew.html
Nothing is more gratifying for a business traveler than to return from a long, hard week on the road and have his loving children come running up and shout adoringly, "what'd you bring me?" (By the time you have a teenage daughter, the tiny bottles of shampoo from the hotel don't do the trick. Try diamonds.)
Also fulfilling is to have your family press you for the exotic details of the trip, and all you can remember is the airport, the rental car place, and the inside of the hotel--in other words, every city looks the same. The only difference is the way the people drive.
I've done a little traveling myself this past year, and, in an effort to have something to tell my children, I made special note of the way people in some cities handle their highways. Here is a quick coast-to-coast review:
Driving in Boston is a bit like playing football, except that everyone else is on the other team. Boston drivers act like they're taking testosterone injections, with little old ladies sporting bumper stickers which say, "Call me Terminator."
The streets of Boston were laid out in pre-Revolutionary war times by drunken horsemen--it's possible to hit twenty intersections in a hundred yards, all of them spilling cars into your path at oblique angles. Don't look for traffic signs; Bostonians think traffic signs are for weenies. Worse of all are the traffic circles, which suck in unwitting automobiles like a black hole pulling in interstellar dust. Oncoming vehicles do their best to keep you pinned inside the innermost crease. Your only hope of escape from a traffic circle is to whiz round and round at ever increasing speed until you are flung away by sheer centrifugal force.
In Kansas City, drivers begin to prepare for an exit from the interstate by flipping on their blinkers and slowing down several miles from the turnoff. By the time they hit the off ramp, they are traveling no more than four miles an hour, and have been doing so for thirty minutes.
Come to an intersection in Kansas City and stop at a red light and everyone else stops too, waving in a most polite fashion for you to proceed. This can be very confusing, since they have a green light and you have the red--do the fools want you to break the law? Apparently so, for they will wait, beaming and nodding encouragingly, while other citizens pull up and smile at you as well. Three or four of these Stepford stops and you begin to long for the streets of Boston.
The whole point of car travel in Detroit is to get where you are going at the fastest possible speed. The automobiles have a special switch which disconnects the brakes so no one will be tempted to use them during rush hour, which is a continuous, white-hot flash of cars screaming down the pavement at Mach 2.
Slow down due to friction or engine exhaustion while traveling in Detroit and someone will instantly slot himself into place in front of you. It really seems like you could put the car in neutral and coast--the line of cars behind you would keep you pressing ahead at the same berserk pace.
In some cities, the sight of a disabled or wrecked car by the side of the road will cause a slowdown in the flow of traffic, as everyone cranes their necks to see what happened. In Detroit, the same sight causes everyone to speed up, under the assumption that one less car means there is a gap up there somewhere to be filled.
Yet, no matter how fast they go, they are still stuck in Detroit.
In California, people don't actually drive anywhere. They pull onto long, narrow parking lots called "freeways" and sit for hours with their engines running.
The automobile exists strictly as a source of revenue in the Windy City. Every dozen yards or so the cars are funneled through toll booths, sucking every coin out of your pocket like locusts stripping a corn field. These funds finance massive construction projects underway at every mile, building, it appears, more toll booths.
Voted by the Windshield Replacement Workers of America as the best place in which to live, Denver's roads are buried in several inches of gravel that becomes airborne during high winds and sprays car windows like machine gun fire. Everyone in Denver drives a sport utility vehicle, not for the snow, but to get through all the sand on the highway.
I'm sure the drivers in other cities have a few quirks as well; I just didn't go anyplace else. If you want to share some of your favorite anecdotes, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now..... our reader responses by city:
JaneL4U@juno.com writes : Traffic on side streets isn't too bad if you don't mind the risk of possibly being shot to death by someone who has arbitrarily decided that they don't like the way you drive. Also, remember that red lights are only a suggested guideline here and yellow means hurry up and drive through the intersection as fast as possible. If you've always had a secret desire to be a race car driver, try your skill on I-25 or I-40. Where these freeways cross at the "Big Eye" is a particular challenge. You have no idea which lane will take you where, but you risk sullen contempt if you should slow down to try to figure it all out, and sudden death if you dare to change lanes in order to go where you thought you wanted to be.--
L. Neil Smith says : Bruce -- My experience is that there is only one city in America (although specific neighborhoods may vary, as you've pointed out), and it's all interconnected by vibrating aluminum tubes we're encouraged to believe (possibly with the use of psychotropic drugs) are airborne vehicles.
The fact that there is also only one hotel (and possibly only one, continuous convention) will feature prominently in one of my next novels.
Thanks for the column --
Sandy H. comments : As a recent Atlanta-transplant, let me tell you I have driven in some of the places you wrote about but there's nothing like Atlanta.
On the news just last night, they displayed the results of what Atlantans fear the most. At the top of the list was "Driving" followed by Violent Crime, Cancer and Fire.
Let me illustrate.
In the entire city of Atlanta there is not one car more than three years old....that's because they don't last very long. A "classic" in this town would be a 1992 Hyundai. Road-weary travelers display their front-end and rear-end damage like a favorite tattoo. That's because if you are lucky enough to "merge" into traffic, you're stuck there until you can battle your way out like a gladiator. All drivers must go to Germany and train on the Autobahn before receiving a valid Georgia Drivers license. And, all drivers within the city limits of Atlanta must flunk a battery of psychological profile tests before being allowed to roll tire onto pavement. If you score in the "Have a nice day" range, you're road-kill.
Take care.....and drive a Humvee when you're in town! --
JaneL4U@juno.com reports : Civilized Texans who realize that it is possible to drive below 100 miles per hour are often found here. Considering the incredible gridlock that occurs on the freeways, especially during rush hours, they probably learned this out of necessity. There seems to be a traffic rule here which dictates that it's illegal to allow anyone to pass you on a freeway. No matter how slow you may be going, you must speed up immediately whenever you see someone trying to get around you and make it impossible for them to pass. --
Marc Godbout says : The traffic lights in Austria turn yellow and red just before they turn green. It's sort of like the lights at a drag strip letting the drivers know when they can get going, and the Austrians treat them as such. I have a nagging feeling that this combination of colors makes pedestrians crossing the street invisible. It definitely makes them scatter!! --
Mark Hayworth of Cincinnati Ohio USA submitted this report:
Monday, August 17, 1998
On the way home the taxi driver wound his way through swarms of bicyclists and other cars. There is constant horn honking. Bicyclists pedal slowly, almost as if in slow motion, and seem oblivious to cars. They donÌt hug the right side of the road, but instead meander all over the full right lane nearly getting hit frequently. Shouting and arguments are common. ItÌs not as crowded as Guangzhou though, which in all my world travels still holds the record as the worst traffic IÌve seen. Beijing has somewhat fewer bikes and pedestrians, and almost no motor scooters or motorcycles. Guangzhou is clogged with motorbikes. The Beijing people I worked with told me itÌs because people in Guangzhou are always hustling and bustling whereas in Beijing they are more relaxed. Yeah, right! As in Guangzhou, many deliveries are made by horribly overloaded bicycles. Bundles the size of one or two dishwashers may be sitting on the rack over the rear fender Ò often these bicycles may have three wheels. I saw one with about 12 Epson computer or printer boxes on it. While walking his bike over the curb from the street to the sidewalk, one of his boxes fell off and landed on its corner in the gutter. He simply picked it up, put it back on, and went on with his delivery. That's probably the guy who delivered our computer!!! (At work, the computer I was supposed to set up came apart into several pieces as I pulled it out of the box.)
Wednesday, August 19, 1998
As usual, left work at 5:00. That's when the employees need to leave to catch the company shuttle bus home. I got into the usual bucket-of-nuts-and-bolts taxi with the bent axle (whump, whump, whump). It's hard to describe to someone who hasnÌt been here what a Chinese taxi ride is like. You can't say that the Chinese drive like the worst of Boston drivers, or that itÌs as bad as New York City, because itÌs nothing like that. ItÌs far worse. It's got to be experienced to be"appreciated." In a way, they drive like two year olds. I know this is true from my own experience with my two-year-old son, Thomas, "driving" at Cedar Point amusement park. When driving the spinning car ride, he spent more time honking the horn than looking at his surroundings, and on the bumper cars he randomly manipulated the steering wheel and accelerator pedal while oblivious to other neighboring cars. Just like the Chinese drivers! Maybe they should have a ride at Kings Island called "Chinese Taxi Ride." They could take 15,000 dusty putt-putt cars, bend the axles, make the brakes grind and the exhaust belch black smoke, rip the upholstery, put in straw seat mats, put the driver in a steel and/or Plexiglas cage, mix in 30,000 bicyclists and then let them loose on the pedestrian pathways. The cars could only be driven be impatient cranky pre-teens smoking cigarettes.
Driving in a horn-honking juggernaut Chinese taxi is like riding a bull in Pamplona or a bat out of hell, or like surfing down an avalanche or lava flow. We change lanes like a Ping-Pong ball in a clothes dryer or a ball in a pinball machine. Bicyclists passively walk or ride their beat-up dirty bikes at a slower than leisurely pace, almost as if IÌm looking at them in slow motion. They meander into and out of traffic passively, like a possum on a city road. They stop abruptly when cars suddenly pull in front of them or bump them from the sides, oblivious to the fact that they are almost run down from the rear. Pedestrians and bicyclist definitely get no respect from drivers: none, zero, zip. They are constantly honked at, bumped, glowered at, and yelled at. The bicyclists just ignore them and continue wandering through traffic like persistent, passive-aggressive puppy dogs. Each car driver acts like the rules of the road should apply to everyone else except him. Just after he barges into a lane without concern to the car he cut off, heÌll be honking his horn several times at someone doing the same thing to him. IÌm sure the word "yield" does not exist in Chinese as applied to a traffic/driving context. Traffic is made worse by the lack of any left turn lanes. Public buses are absolutely packed: every seat is taken and people are jam-packed into the center aisle. The buses can barely move under the weight. --
Bruce <email@example.com> says: Another comment about signage in Massachusetts: The road you are on will seldom have a sign identifying it: the presumption is that if you managed to get onto that road in the first place, then you must know what it is and where you are. --
David Stephenson, D.Stephenson@stephensonstrategies.com:
So what's the big deal about Boston driving? I have to laugh when I hear about places like Salt Lake City where they have wimpy rectilinear layouts -- we let cows lay them out during the colonial period, and, if they've meandered for 350 years, there's no reason why they can't meander for another 350! Actually you were lucky you didn't visit here before 1980: that's when we decided that having tourists might not be such a bad idea, and they seemed to have this idea (I know it's silly, but you know tourists) that the main streets should actually be marked. Until then, there were no signs on the main streets, on theory that if you didn't know their names, you shouldn't be there! Keep up the good work! --
Can't remember who sent this one: I grew up in Boston, so most of my driving experience is there. I'd like to add something to your observations. Boston drivers take pride in being the worst drivers in the world. Other places are crazier, ruder, more dangerous. But for good old-fashioned dumb moves and total lack of attention to common sense -- you can't beat Boston.
REBSARGE@AOL.COM: Bruce, a friend forwarded to me your recent column on the difference in traffic in several cities and states.
I agree with you totally on Boston. Those people have elevated rudeness to an art form. They eat their own young. And I've heard that the fellow who invented the traffic circle was killed in a wreck on one. One can only hope, eh?
In Boston, I've seen cops flip off motorists whom they had just run off the road. I've seen delivery trucks running 40 miles an hour through crowded business districts - with two wheels in the street and two on the sidewalk! I've seen people flip off ambulances that were trying to get through intersections - on green lights!
Entering the Callahan tunnel from Logan Airport one finds about a dozen lanes of traffic from at least 4 streets (it's been awhile, and you know how the mind blots out the horrors) intersecting at oblique angles. The streets meet a hundred yards or so from the entrance to the tunnel, which I believe has 4 lanes. That hundred yards is sort of an alluvial fan in reverse - no lane markers or signals at all. ( You were right on that point, too.) Traffic on the streets coming in is about 40, and in the tunnel is about 50, but in the delta is about 1.5.
By my second trip to Boston I had learned to never make eye contact with other drivers, for to do so is to surrender. Never look at 'em, and never give 'em an inch. I was in the delta before Callahan, in the far left lane, when I saw the hood of a car trying to squeeze in between me and the Jersey Bounce to my left. He was coming up on the shoulder! Without ever looking at him, I cut my wheels to the left and forced him into the wall. Oh! I felt horrible! But that's the way the game is played. If you doubt that, here's the rest of the story.
The guy I'd put into the Jersey Bounce fell in behind me, and when we got into the tunnel I got a good look at him in the mirror. He was a Boston cop. And he didn't pull me over, or flip me off, or give any indication he thought my behavior unusual!
Thanks for sharing! -- REBSARGE@AOL.COM in Albuquerque, NM (Where 90% of the drivers are asleep, and 9% are full of angel dust or Budweiser.)
Ron Says : Boston - the only sure way to get through the Calley tunnel by car is to wait for a siren, then follow the 15 taxicabs tailing the ambulance.
Kathy Kienholz told us: Addendum to your bit on Boston drivers: Boston is the only city I've seen with one-way streets ending in dead ends. Maybe the Boston drivers' rage is merely a normal, healthy reaction to insane street design...
Enjoy your column -- keep 'em coming! --
From Tom "Squatch" Indelicato : Rather than simply forward to you one of the umpteen "Drivers According to City" humor EMailings I've received over the years, as I'm sure many of your readers are doing / will do, I'll pass on to you an original, thought up all by myself, observation.
Having tried to grow up in New York City for 20 plus years, and now living for the past 15 years in the Boston area, (actually, Southern New Hampshire, which is another matter altogether), I've determined that New York City drivers, for the most part, know the rules of the road, and yet take any and all opportunities to bend and/or break those rules. However, if you were to press the point, they would admit to you that they were wrong (just before they flip you the bird and/or stab you).
Boston drivers, however, have absolutely know idea what the rules are, and therefore drive in whatever manner is required to get them from Point A to Point B. If this involves cutting you off, for example, and you express your dissatisfaction (with your horn, again, for example), the other driver will be upset with you, all because they're unaware that s/he actually did anything wrong.
This observation was borne out by a friend, who, wanting to help another person's teenager learn to drive, approached someone at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles and asked for the Massachusetts Driver's Manual. The glassy-eyed vacant stare he got in return was bad enough, but was compounded further when she replied, "Gee, I don't know how you'd get one of those ..."
Anyway, love your column, and hope to see many more in the future! --
From Duncan Cameron : Hi Bruce, Just returned from a brief stint in Boca Raton (Pronounced BOKA RATONE by the natives) and you should make an effort to drive to southeastern Florida to add a frightening new page to your list of areas to avoid driving in if possible. It is a very exciting experience even for an inexperienced driver.
WILLY295@aol.com says: When driving through Cleveland only one image comes to mind: orange cones. Every road at some point is littered with these things. Road construction is never ending. It takes a years for O-d.o.t to fix a pot hole and once done, they have to fix another spot fifteen feet over where traffic was rerouted. For being a city that receives terrible storms, the driving sure does not show it. As soon as a flake is spotted traffic putters down to 20 mph in a 65 mph zone. Then when a real storm hits you are luck if you hit 5 mph. Ò crewdroog
The east shoreway of Cleveland, There is always a car fire. --
Tom Fennell tells us : I noticed in your last column, ( # 86) , you didn't touch on the only two seasons Illinoians find...Winter, and Road Construction! --
From Rachel : Chicago (some things you didn't mention):
A yellow light is a signal for every driver to speed up. The rule is, you can run a red light as long as you ride the bumper of the person gunning the yellow light. After all, no one will hit you if you are really part of the car that made that yellow light. By the time you actually can go on a green light (after 10 more cars have cleared the intersection going the opposite direction), you are already gunning a yellow light with some one riding your tail.
Two lanes merging into one lane is also a signal to speed up and then frantically hit your brakes and honk at the person who made it ahead of you. If traffic is moving slow, you need to get two inches from the car that is trying to beat you. Then when they beat you to the single lane, honk to let them know that was really your spot. The idiot who designed the roads in the suburbs makes one single road go from one lane to two lanes and so on 4 or 5 times within a 5 mile radius. You can imagine what this does for traffic (same idiot who designed the tollways). --
From Annette: In LA, the drivers are very nice but don't drive particularly well. In Boston, they're total jerks but they do know there stuff. Because Colorado is half way between the two; the drivers there are jerks who don't drive well.
Pam in Dallas says : We in Dallas invented Road Rage. Forget owning a cell phone - all drivers are required to take a course on target-shooting every 6 months, and must prominently display a 357 magnum on the dash (just traded in my 357 for an Uzi today!) We have lost the art of flipping people off - we just pull out our guns. --
Leslie Beam firstname.lastname@example.org : Hi there. I love your column. Great work. When I signal to indicate I want to make a lane change, the typical Dallas driver, head cocked with cell phone smashed to ear, is suddenly inspired to aggressively and possessively close whatever gap had previously been available. Then I can easily read his bumper sticker "Don't like my driving? Take it up with my 2 buddies, Smith & Wesson." --
MauritsonD@aol.com wrote: Dallas. There must be a law of which only I am ignorant that stopping on the freeway on-ramp is mandatory. --
Ron sez : By the way, I'm in Dallas, TX today. Here's a traffic environment for ya.
This is a city where you can get fined for driving without a cowboy hat. The city itself is so flat they constructed underpasses all over town so there would be slopes to keep stalled cars moving. The downtown is weird. No one honks. I'm not kidding, no one honks! Maybe it's the gun racks, I don't know. Whatever it is, drivers seem unbelievably polite to one another. Last night I walked downtown and saw four cars stopped at a red light. The first car was stalled and the three behind him patiently waited for the tow truck to arrive. I hope to God the tow arrived because it got cold early this morning. One side note, from your car you can easily get every manner of food in downtown Dallas as long as it's barbecue or Coney dogs. One enterprising restaurateur bucked the trend and started a fried chicken and donut shop, apparently figuring he had breakfast, lunch and dinner covered with only two menu items. Talk about clever, I soon realized the same menu also provides dinner and dessert. This could be the next chain. Thank God he didn't have a drive-up window. The closest lane would have gridlocked the entire city because of the few restaurant patrons who queued up for wings and glazed old fashioneds.
Thanks again for your marvelous sense of humor, Bruce. You keep us all laughing and it is appreciated.
JaneL4U@juno.com, who's been everywhere has this to say about El Paso: Driving here is never dull. The freeway is filled with Texans who drive like bats out of hell and Jaurenos who have wandered across the border from Mexico ve-e-e-ry slowly. To signal a lane change is a sign of weakness and lack of machismo. So is looking to see what's around you before making that lane switch. This results in hundreds of interesting accidents which tie up the entire interstate for hours and hours. This is especially fun in the summer when it's always over 100 degrees. The resultant pile up of broken down cars adds a delightful fillip to the entire mess, particularly when there's ongoing road construction, which is perpetual.--
Dawn Sloan says this : After just getting back from a vacation in Florida, the drivers there are TERRIBLE...
I'm sure most are foreign people (or people from Tenn.), but some of the road antics Bruce Cameron would have a field day with. I saw one guy coming into the airport that had decided (too late) that he wanted to take the other exit. After jumping the driver's side two tires up over the curb, he decided that making his own exit wasn't a good idea seeing the island of approaching palm trees closing in at 60 mph (100 kph).
Marc Godbout has this to say : Germany: Home of the Autobahn. Where else in the world can you see thousands of Mercedes driving in one direction at 120 mph? Just think of the inertial forces here. If they all stopped at the same time, the planet would hiccup and we'd probably lose a time zone.
Ira L Steele has these observations: ...so most of you out there probably think that an emissions test would refer to some type of procedure where a medical device is attached to your backside therefore determining the amount and the velocity of digestive emissions (a.k.a. gas, farts, cutting cheese, tooting, breaking wind, or air biscuits) that exit your body and find their way out into other's breathing environment... Well although this procedure should probably be performed here in the South: due to the bodily emissions of bloated beer-drinking individuals who fart freely in most any given public circumstance, the emissions test actually refers to the ability of your car to pass the rigorous test to crack down on gas emissions from your car and help improve the environment from harmful carbon-dioxide. This law, passed last year requires your car to pass the test before you can get tags for your vehicle. In most cities this would not pose a problem--citizens would take there cars by any mechanic shop, pay the $25 for the test, and proceed on their merry way. This is not the case here in Georgia. On most any given day you could find some nervous redneck, biting his dirty fingernails standing next in line at the mechanics beside his falling apart 69 chevy. Now mind you, the muffler (where the car's emissions exit of course) is wired on with a close hanger--this is the 1st sign that this a pretty good indication that this here good ol boy aint gon be passing this here test. The 2nd sign that characterizes most Georgian vehicles can be observed at any stop light ( by the way there's usually only 2 of these per town only 2 of those). Upon taking off on a green light most of these pitiful cars emit a smokescreen where the carbon monoxide could actually kill the driver behind them, besides the rest of Georgia.
Well, of course I passed the emissions test, and the guy at the mechanic shop acted as if it was the first passing vehicle he's seen in a while--I actully received a pat on the back as if I had done something great, I almost expected a round of applause from the other mechanics. So I started home--not less than 5 miles down the road, I see a good ol boy driving what appeared to be a 1980 red datsun car with his hand extended from the window. At first I figured he was waving, or perhaps just funneling wind in the car (which is the classic Southern air conditioner by the way), but as I slammed on the brakes I realized this fella was actually signaling a left turn! Now wait a minute, the state of GA just required me to pay $25 for an emission test and this bubba rides around with blinkers or tail lights that are all busted out-- I suppose they must have got busted while he was doing some technical mudboggin maneuver in his car--o well I suppose I could pitch a fit, but IÌll be better off just bringing out the old bicycle safety book and learning to go along with Georgia's "official traffic signals". --
Dawn in North Platte wrote : I only actually lived in Houston for six months, but the driving habits I learned there have stayed with me in the 10 years since I left.
In Houston, if a driver is signaling a right turn, don't pull out in front of him, because a right turn signal generally means a left turn. Also, don't expect a Houstonian to signal that he's going to enter your lane, just expect him to do it, leaving approximately a half-inch clearance between the back of his vehicle and the front of yours.
Another truism of driving in Houston is that while the speed limit on the highway is 55, traffic will be going 85. However, if you dare to get up to 80, yours is the car the cops will decide to pull over and ticket for speeding, even though the drivers going 85 are passing you.
I still wait until a vehicle actually starts to make it's turn before I believe that is what it is really going to do! --
Kelly tells us : I was in Texas over the Christmas holidays, mostly in Houston.
My fiancee and I termed it the "Texas Sweep." The highways are wide - up to 8 lanes in each direction. Everyone drives 90 miles per hour, regardless of how heavy traffic is. While they're driving 90 miles per hour they change lanes constantly, only they don't take one lane at a time. Instead they take no less than 2 lanes, always between 2 cars in front and back (you guessed it - they can't see what's in the outside lane!) and never slow down a bit. The Texas Sweep! --
KenP has noted: Houston: We are always amazed at a safe return from a local trip in Dallas, but it pales to the level of a Florida Retirement community compared to Houston. There, drivers go at breakneck speed to within feet of your trunk, then either screech to a halt, or perform a violent lane change maneuver, blasting their horn in either case.
Lane change may not be the correct term. Drivers there swap lanes so drastically that one can assume the lines are there only as a reference point, as Houston drivers swing across the single expanse from the left shoulder (yes shoulder, the extra lane on the left) of the four lane expressway to the Texas Exit cut through the grass past the right shoulder to the frontage road, where traffic may move a few miles per hour faster in rush hour.
Marc Godbout has these notes from overseas : The streets in Japan are incredibly narrow. The real reason that Japan made the first compact cars was so that they could actually drive them home to show off to the neighbors. And if two cars are traveling in opposite directions the sidewalks (and whatever happens to be occupying them at the time) become legal lanes. Ever see those stunt driving shows where a car drives around on just it's left side? That was invented in Japan.
JaneL4U@juno.com says: Past city fathers in the second largest city in New Mexico had the excellent foresight many years ago to hire the worst traffic engineers available to coordinate the traffic light system. The tradition continues. In addition to the maladapted hodgepodge, cars lie in wait on side streets so they can dart out at top speed in front of you, only to then drive at about 2 miles per hour. Extra points are given if yours is the only other car to be seen on the street. Sitting at the stoplight when it turns green, only to finally move as it turns yellow so that no one else can go through is another favorite pastime here. These charming customs give you plenty of time to observe the rapidly disappearing small town atmosphere here. --
Mark Mills <email@example.com> rants: Yellow Lights mean 6 more cars MUST proceed through this intersection, NOW! Only the locals know this, so when visitors arrive, they foolishly stop as a light turns red and get tailended.
I personally witnessed it happening on three separate occasions. Other than this minor quirk, they are courteous and friendly drivers who allow you to merge and signal and everything.
Now, in Nashville, Tennessee, you will discover the mad freaks who signal not to tell you what they are going to do but to tell you what the person in front of them is doing. This seems to be because all the roads are 2 lanes, and people are so used to farm equipment that they happily use either lane at any time. Thus, if you are slowing down to turn left across the road, you chance getting T'ed unless the kind souls behind you all warn the last idiot in line that someone is turning.
Ron has observed that: LA - A city of freeways surrounded by small neighborhoods. This is all about travel. The region that can move millions of screaming kids through Disneyland has figured out how to move millions of violent adults through the traffic system. You can drive by freeway from anyplace to anyplace else at 85 mph. If traffic stalls momentarily, you move to "surface streets" and continue your 85 mph journey. Cops are charged with keeping traffic moving, and since most drivers do 10 - 15 mph over the limit, this is generally not a problem. Retired snowplows from Minneapolis are imported for shoving accidents off the roads. The only reason drivers gawk at accidents is to see if one of the drivers is a Hollywood star.
Our friend south of the Border Drew says: Mexico City drivers are to Boston drivers as Pro Rugby players are to the average Pee Wee Football League. The two factors of Mexico City that compound the challenge are:
1) All traffic control devices, including stop signs and red lights, are routinely disregarded. In fact, they're barely even a suggestion. I've seen 30 cars go through a red light without even slowing down!
2) All of the cars are VW Beetles (the old kind, not the new, clean, quiet kind). And all of the roads are twisty, turny and narrow.
I haven't figured out why the cars don't plow into each other on a regular basis. As near I as I can determine, it's the same reason schooling fish don't collide.
I've found the most effective way to drive in Mexico City is to close your eyes and go for it. (Your column's great by the way!) -
Bruce <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes: For Miami/LA: cars are a "vehicle" for taking out one's latent aggressions against the rest of the race. Waving loaded weapons is merely a courtesy detail, to inform the other driver that you are more serious than s/he is about being next through the intersection. --
Kirsten B quipped: Miami has 5 different groups of drivers. The most complex group is the new immigrants. They fall into 2 categories - people afraid to be pulled over (fear of police, deportation or lack of insurance). These people stop for a full 5 minutes at every stop sign and go 5 miles under all speed limits. The other category is of drivers who have not truly left Central/South America. Stop signs don't exist and when there are 3 lanes, surely they can make 4 or 5 lanes by squeezing in. Then there are the old people and New Yorkers (these 2 groups have a lot of overlap). They all drive with their heads below the steering wheel about 10 miles under the speed limit....all while screaming and hitting the horn. Finally, just to mix it up, there are the tourists. They will see their exit at the last minute (follow the SUN!) and pull across 3 lanes of speeding traffic while braking. It all makes for an painful day on the roads of Miami. --
Midwesterner Petra Benton says : As friendly as the Midwest is supposed to be, with everyone waving to each other and all.... it is impossible to cross a parking lot at any mall without taking your own life into your hands. The driving public is on a mission, assuring themselves that there truly is a parking spot within the hemisphere of said mall. Therefore, come rain, shine, snow or small children running recklessly across the street from the store to the actual lot, you can bet your last middle finger (which is what you end up waving with, in this wonderful land of "friendliness") that you are going to stand there and wait for the onslaught of cars to pass. Stepping off the curb to cross is simply their signal to accelerate and veer the vehicle in your direction. Because, as I'm sure you know, hitting anyone has a point value....--
Dawn in North Platte also wrote: On the flip side, I lived in Britton, SD for two years. The main thing to remember in Britton is that there are a lot of older residents in the town, and they don't believe the stop signs pertain to them. I learned early there that it is best to stop (or at least slow considerably) and look both ways before proceeding. It is also best to give the right of way to any vehicle approaching the intersection, because they will take it anyway.
Fairfield, IA is also an interesting place to drive. The Maharishi International University is located there. The students study transcendental meditation and meet in their sexually segregated holy temples every morning. When they leave those temples, they are apparently still meditating, because they will walk in front of your car without even noticing you are there! They drive the same way, so it's a dangerous place to drive or walk.
I enjoy your column, thanks for sharing it.
Chuck Bumgardner, Brooklyn Center, MN (email@example.com) comments: In Minneapolis, the Department of Transportation, after several years of strategic high-level talks, procured a few hundred Sherman tanks from the U.S. Army. After painting them orange, they turbocharged the engines and attached a blade on the front. Now called "snowplows," they are capable of plowing snow, other vehicles, and concrete at 65-75 mph (plowing concrete slows the "snowplow" down a bit). The motto of the elite "snowplow" commando squad (a.k.a. the Orange Berets) is "Stay back. Stay alive." (Really!) Motorists actually attempting to get somewhere on the Twin Cities' ice-covered roads are likely to see the gloating orange lights of the "snowplows" rapidly approaching them from one or several directions. The best course of action (read: "survival technique") generally is to stay calm and immediately drive into the ditch. Although one might question the sanity of this decision, one must realize that tow trucks are cheaper than body shops. Motorists who experience a "snowplow" backing up toward them discover what a juicy steak feels as it is first salted, then devoured. Minneapolis has two driving seasons: winter and spring break. During the seven days of good driving weather, the ice and snow immediately melt, flooding the streets and helping to develop Guinness-book-quality potholes, which are invisible due to the foot of water covering them. After one or two cars and/or semis have taken up permanent residence in some of the larger potholes, the driving is much easier, as following vehicles can merely drive over the top of the ones lost to sight. Unscrupulous property owners place ads in the paper to rent out the larger potholes in the street ("Beautiful lakefront property. Basement and sub-basement. Bring scuba gear."). --
Rachel noticed that: I am from Minneapolis and didn't realize that we even had quirks until I moved to Chicago.
Minneapolis: On a two lane freeway, each car has a need to stay exactly even with the car next to it. Therefore, there are no fast and slow lanes - just one big slow lane. If you creep up on a Minnesota driver's tail, they will start flashing their brake lights like a strobe light to tell you to get back. When they do this, they obviously slow down and the driver in the lane alongside must then slow down to stay even so no other car can pass them until one of them actually exits the freeway.
Exiting the freeway requires getting into the proper lane 5 miles in advance, turning on your signal 4 miles in advance, and taking the cloverleaf exits at 2 mph.
Four way stops are just another excuse for people to gape at one another. All four cars will first wave each other through. Once waving, they all decide simultaneously to go. They all then stop again and start to wave once again. They continue this until one brave soul finally guns it (after all, some one better or they will all meet in the middle). --
Steve Ginensky says: Bruce: Insightful observations, and ones which I will use to show the people I talk to about travel that I wasn't kidding.
In Minneapolis, they huddle for warmth. You'll see a line of twelve cars in the right lane, all going 53 mph on the highway. There will invariably be three empty lanes on the left, but for some reason, no one wants to leave the pack. As you eventually test the soundness of your belief that there's no cop or moose on the highway causing this, and pull around them, they all stare as you go by with a vague look that suggests that they've seen people leave the pack before, they just don't fully understand it.
By the way, in Boston, I think you need to grab a brass ring to get out of the circle.
Keep up the good humor. --
Ashley LaRoche Heeren, Nashville, Tennessee figured out that: You obviously haven't been to Nashville lately
First of all, every major thoroughfare coming in or out of Nashville is under construction. Merging four lanes down to one lane is not uncommon; neither is taking 40 minutes to go 2 miles (it happened to me last week).
Nashville drivers DO NOT know what blinkers are for; they either never use them - swerving recklessly from lane to lane - or they turn them on and keep them on. Nashville drivers are also very RUDE; the charm and etiquette of the South does not extend to the asphalt. They won't let you merge in front of them, even if your lane was closed due to construction a half-mile back, and when you do cut in out of desperation, you can be guaranteed to get the finger. It's the official state bird of Tennessee. My biggest pet peeve, however, is letting someone - out of the goodness of my heart - merge in front of me, and then they don't even acknowledge my generosity with a wave or glance in the rearview mirror.
Nashville drivers don't have a clue as to when they're supposed to turn on the headlights; how to drive in snow or ice; or that they're supposed to cut off their high beams to oncoming traffic. These are just a few things that make Nashville drivers so awful; you really have to drive here and experience it yourself to believe it. --
Marshall tells all: Thanks for a very funny column. The addition of Nashville,Tenn. would be good-the worst Kamikaze drivers in the country. When everyone else is ambling along on i-40 at about 65, they zoom through at easily over 100, and collect the cheers from the slow lanes. They are not in a hurry, they just want to see if they can do it. Thanks
Out-Of-Towner Brian J. Fallon, Sayville, NY says: Bruce,
I love your column, and am a loyal reader. But it stuns me beyond belief that you omitted New York in your list of "Adventure Drive" cities.
Driving in New York City is truly a 3-D experience. You are never safe, even when parked. You not only have people on every side of you trying their level best to kill you (whether they are in a car or not is immaterial), but you also have huge, aging skyscrapers waiting for you to find that mythical Legal Parking Space so that they can drop their pollution-encrusted cornices on you.
When you are able to actually move through the streets (a feat usually reserved for the time periods of 3am-5am), it requires that you peel out and try to bury your speedometer, just before you slam on your brakes so hard that coins dislodge from between the seat cushions of the back seat and fire through your windshield like bullets. You will do this every fifty feet, regardless. You needn't worry if you have bad brakes, however, because if your brakes can't stop you, a borough-sized pothole will do it for you instead.
You need not worry about what color the traffic light is when in NYC. In fact, all traffic signals, signs, lines, lanes, curbs, frangible construction barricades, and decorative shrubbery is purely suggestive. Your route is your choice. In fact, the FAA has been conducting extensive studies of the traffic patterns in NYC, and is using this information for it's "Free Flight" concept of Fly-Wherever-You-Want.
The fact is that you could be completely blindfolded and be able to maneuver around NYC just fine, because the taxi cabs will blast their horn if you don't hit the gas the moment .03 kilowatt of power begins to dissipate from the Red Light (waiting for ANY illumination of the Green light is a sure sign of a Tourist). Once you have firmly plastered the gas pedal to the floorboard, the taxis will lurch past you on all sides in order to get in front of you, thus keeping you securely trapped in the middle of the lane. Since taxis will only make a Left turn if it is on your right side, and vice versa, you can just hook your front bumper onto the taxi's wheel well, and they'll happily tow you to your destination. Just mind the Buses pulling out. Stopping is as simple as finding a strategically located double-parked step van. Do not worry about your paint job. No vehicle is allowed in Manhattan unless it looks like it has been combed with a rake.
Just make sure your Seat Belts are securely jammed under you seats. No one in NYC wears seat belts, because it requires too much time to remove the belt and dive clear of the car after having suddenly triple parked in Times Square for a quick cappuccino. A few years ago, police discovered that what they had originally thought was a series of brutal Cabby murders turned out to be drivers wearing seat belts killed by half-dollars dislodged from their back seats. It's better to just go out the front window with the coins. With a little practice, a shoulder roll off the hood and a finger to the cabbies swerving in at you will have you sprinting into the corner bodega like a true Manhattenite. --
The infamous Cap'n Omar sent this missive: The thing I noticed when I visited New York City and drove there was not so much that there were bad drivers as rude ones. I literally had to work my way over to the left lane 3 blocks before my turn, because the other drivers would not give way.
But the thing that REALLY bugged me was the pedestrians. There seems to be an attitude that if you start crossing the street and keep your face straight ahead and to the ground, and pretend that the other cars don't exist, nobody will hit you.
Little old ladies would plow ahead, regardless of the street sign. Perhaps they hated life in New York so much that they figured it wasn't worth making the effort to stay alive.
Cornhusker Meri Seedorf reported : Here is a story from Omaha, Nebraska
Since there is a major Air Force Base in Omaha, the streets are never salted during the winter, because of the possibility of salt hanging on cars getting on the runways and on the planes. Instead, in their infinite wisdom, they decide to coat the roads with an inch thick blanket of what amounts to playground sand. Once all the snow is gone, the sand stays until it gets cleaned up by the road sweepers, which happens about once a year at 3:30 am. As someone who lived there, and had a crappy car, it made life quite difficult. Sliding on the sand was worse than sliding on ice.
Palm Beach County, FLA
Irene Hobart wrote: I laughed at your description of driving in several cities, which I found on a joke website. Particularly of interest was Denver, where I lived for 14 years. For a couple of years, driving into the city from the outskirts through "the mousetrap" was a true learning experience - driving 20-25 MPH and watching people actually applying make-up, reading books or the newspaper, probably thinking they were going too slow to be in an accident.
However, I now live in Palm Beach County, Florida, where millions of "snowbirds" from the northeast spend their winters. The permanent residents of Palm Beach County spend six months of every year dodging these mostly elderly people on the road. We keep an eye out for out-of-town license plates, or cars where you can't see the driver's head through the back window, because we truly fear them. A few snowbird traits: Driving 20 MPH under the speed limit in the left lane of a 3-lane major street because they're going to turn left in 5 miles; cutting in front of 2 other lanes of traffic from an outside lane to make a left-hand turn into their condominium complex (instead of making a U-turn a block further up the road); riding the line so you can't pass on either side; backing up traffic during rush hour because they're in a hurry to get to the restaurant before the Early Bird dinners go to full price; slowing down at a traffic light because they're anticipating the yellow light and don't want to run the red; not hearing or seeing emergency vehicles behind them. I could go on and on.
I'm just grateful that they're usually home and in bed by 9:00 p.m., out of harm's way for 10 hours.
Thanks for listening, --
Pennsylvania Love your stuff!
Ubiquitously named Moolahin PA says: Pennsylvania drivers (especially while driving through New Jersey to get down the shore) truly believe the white line is for straddling. Those who stray off it, go into the fast lane, immediately making it the slow lane. They feel the flashing headlights behind them are not an invitation to move over completely, but to light their way back to the straddling position. Talk about traffic circles - I once saw a Pennsylvania driver BACK around the busiest one in New Jersey! --
Barbara tells this tale: Hello Bruce:
You invited anecdotes on driving in various places, I'd like to invite you to try driving in Puerto Rico. Honestly, I feel the folks are very warm, sensitive, creative, and expressive which also extends to their driving.
Many years ago, I lived in Puerto Rico. I was absolutely thrilled to find that I was beginning to understand the language when I found myself obstructing the passage of a car. The gentleman wished to make a left hand turn from the far right hand lane in the space of about ten feet of forward movement in rush hour traffic. I clearly understood him as he described me as the daughter of a very large whore.
Finding places from a map were a particular challenge. All road signs have campaign posters placed over them, then left in place for years until the next election. Since the local folks know where things are, it isn't a problem for them.
It was a bit of a change to return to the states after learning the benefits of such creative driving habits as using sidewalks as additional traffic lanes, hanging out the window to encourage folks to permit lane transfer, and spontaneously stopping to take advantage of a roadside sale.
Culture shock (reverse culture shock?) found me staring into the eyes of folks who were shocked at my expressive use of the car horn. I had spent years of learning to use the horn in both persuasive and social context only to find that folks here in Iowa thought one quite rude and impatient if one used their horn at all.
Enjoy life, it's a path.
Salt Lake City
Jeff Hoy sends these words of insight: Salt Lake City is full of friendly people; until, that is, you hit the road. If you even think about using your blinker to indicate a lane change, whoever sees it first will rush to fill the empty spot you were hoping to move into. Center turn lanes are unknown here, too. Oh, they're on the road, but people prefer to wait until you come down the road, then accelerate across the middle lane to swerve directly in front of you. The final bit of excitement comes from the wonderful Utah Dept. Of Transportation. Since SLC won the 2002 Olympic bid, UDOT has decided they need to rework our entire freeway system, as well as adding a light rail system. This pretty much consists of closing every onramp or off ramp that is in a truly needed location and routing all traffic through the city, where you then are re-rerouted because of the light rail construction. If UDOT discovers that rush hour drivers have found a relatively quick way to get around some of the worst congestion, you can rest assured that will be the next road to be closed; if they canÌt find a good reason to close the road, they will at least close it down to one lane in the height of rush hour. I believe Utah's new state tree is going to be the orange construction marker barrel, but that's still in process . . . Thanks for the funnies, Bruce! --
Ron ruminates: Seattle - a city of islands connected by thin ribbons of concrete laughingly called freeways. Once on these outdoor equivalents to moving sidewalks, there is no escape. If traffic slows, you better have a book and food. (At least in LA, traffic only slows for 1/10th mile, after which you're doing 85 mph again.) Actually, the term "freeway" is an oxymoron here. It costs you a fortune in gas to sit on these roadways, engine idling, with 30,000 other frustrated drivers. No one apparently ever goes anywhere by car, they just all congregate in their vehicles sipping Starbucks lattes and marveling at the rain. This is the only city in the world that has a carpool lane in the far right lane of the freeway for miles and miles, and then for no apparent reason, moves it to the far left lane. Watching the perplexed drivers attempt to cross three lanes to get back to the shifting carpool lane is almost as fun as watching people try to cross the car pool lane to get on or off the freeway. Somewhere, a traffic engineer is laughing his ass of about the poor schmucks stuck in his billion dollar practical joke. The left lane of every freeway is where the elderly spend their leisure time, driving for hours at 45 mph with one turn signal blinking incessantly. Horns and flashing headlights don't dissuade them since they're generally either blind or deaf or both. Oh, and if you attempt to merge onto the freeway or into another lane because your lane ends abruptly, drivers your desired lane will suddenly drive within 1 inch of each other, locking bumpers in an attempt to prevent you from jumping into "their" line. Cops are charged with strictly enforcing the speed limits, which is never a problem because most drivers don't come within 5 mph of the limit. In the event of an accident, the involved vehicles are towed to the middle of the freeway so everyone going the other direction can see the carnage. State police call this an object lesson.
Valerie Fredrickson adds to the Seattle drving comments: I think that most Seattle drivers found their licenses in a Cracker Jack box. The rules of the road do not apply and the most consistent thing that all the drivers will do is to cut you off, honking, flipping you off and swearing in their language of choice as if you were the one driving like a maniac. The most important thing to remember is that you must be clairvoyant so that you know where the other guy wants to cut across 4 lanes of traffic going 75 MPH to make that exit that is 12 feet ahead.--
Lihle Mtshali tells us:
In South Africa one of the most common means of transportation for the public is what we call "mini-bus taxis". There are four seats in the back which are meant to sit 13 but always carry no less than 16. The front seat is meant to sit the driver and 2 passengers but can carry the driver and 3 passengers.
Now, these "Mini-bus taxis" drive at the speed of light, cutting in front of everybody and everything. Most of the drivers don't have drivers' licenses or have fake ones.
You will be driving peacefully with you family when "whoosh" something speeds past you only to stop dead in front of you to dislodge one of the passengers, which can take up to 10 minutes if the person is sitting in the back seat because all the other people have to get up as well. The drivers are forever fighting with bus drivers who use the same route as them and mostly carry whites. They will cut in front of the bus with everybody in the taxi screaming for him to slow down and he just goes, "If you're not happy, get out". Talk about excellent customer service.
90% of the accidents on South African roads involve these taxis. They are black-owned and only us poor blacks take them because we can't afford private cars, but believe me if I had another choice, I would never take a "mini-bus taxi" as long as I live. --
David Youngs (firstname.lastname@example.org) has this to say about the bay area: Drivers in San Francisco are in a huge hurry to get to work or to return home. If you drop back to avoid tailgating, both drivers on either side will immediately both attempt to squeeze in directly in front of you. The one with the biggest car or the most insistent horn will usually win. Then to avoid tailgating, you again slow down and the process repeats itself. The only way to avoid having cars crowd in front of you is to chain your car to the one ahead or weld your front bumper to his back bumper. This is accomplished effectively when he keeps swerving wildly from side to side to prevent anyone from pushing him out of his lane. The swerving will cause friction between your bumpers and weld them together, so be careful who you choose to follow or you may end up very far from home.
Another technique is to stay in the fast lane until the last possible moment, then veer wildly across all the lanes onto the exit ramp slowing down from 80 miles an hour to just under 35. Just pretend that nobody is between you and your intended exit. It works best if you close your eyes and ignore reality.
There are special lanes set up for car pooling. If you do not have anyone to carpool with, simply get inflatable dolls and dress them up for the occasion. If anyone looks anywhere near your direction, immediately veer your vehicle at them. They will be so busy dodging your attack that they will not notice the vinyl passengers.
The traffic signs signaling exactly where the "highways" are camouflaged, and within the city limits the highways meander through a wide array of lanes and alleys, one way streets, and tortuous twists. A sharp right is immediately followed by a sharp left turn, so you can easily avoid being in the proper lane and get yourself completely lost within 6 blocks. Once lost you will notice that all streets are one way streets going away from where you need to go, or dead ends.
Drive a beat up old monster of a car and people will respect you. If you have enough dents visible on your car, they may even realize that you never yield, ever, and will tend to avoid crowding you. Be careful though, because someone driving an even older bigger car may be playing kamikaze too.
And forget about ever parking, because you will never find a parking place. Cars follow people walking down the sidewalk with packages in their hands in the vain hope that they are returning to their car, and vacating a parking place.
While driving in San Francisco, you might feel like you are in a road battle. Well, you are. So never never ever surrender. --
Ron wrote: San Francisco and Silicon Valley - all of the automobiles on these roads are apparently operated by Pentium chips coordinated over the Internet. Drivers seem to be somewhat oblivious to traffic as they operate every type of personal digital appliance known to mankind. Talking on a cell phone while driving is considered rude. Talking on a satellite cell phone while driving is considered very smart. All drivers must wear glasses, those with tape on the bridge of the glasses get the most approving nods. The two cars of choice are rare Porsches and old Dodge Darts. Hey, they still run fine.
St. Petersburg, FLA
Darcie left here native Wisconsin and finds: Well, I recently moved from Madison, Wisconsin to St. Petersburg, Florida. Wisconsin drivers are very boring as a rule. But Floridians are insane! People completely disregard the speed limit, and obeying a red traffic light appears to be optional! The City has put flashing message boards all over the place saying things like: "Red means Stop!" and "So Stop already!!". I am not making this up! Anyway, I think it's very amusing, and every day's drive to and from work is an adventure.
Looking forward to many more entertaining columns! -
Humor Columnist Erik R. Deckers sent this missive: Great column about places to drive. I live in Syracuse, IN, which is about 1 hour southeast of South Bend. We are on the largest natural lake in Indiana, and we get lots and lots and lots of tourists in the summer. Since it's a small town, EVERYTHING is two-lane roads. Unfortunately, most of the tourists have never seen water, so as they drive 15 mph under the speed limit near the lake, anytime they get a glimpse of the lake -- even in the 20 foot space between cottages on the lake -- they feel compelled to SLAM on the brakes to see it for that brief nanosecond. Of course, by the time they do this, the opportunity is gone, so they punch the gas again, so they don't raise the ire of the long line of townies behind them. As soon as they do, another gap opens up between two cottages, and they slam on the brakes again. It's like watching a long conga line of automobiles, and it's annoying as hell! --
From the Volunteer state we hear this from Dan Haun: Driving in Tennessee is like being in a Dr. Jekyll-like movie. I have become firmly convinced that the legendary laid-back attitude of us Southerners is due to us waiting until the last possible minute to go anywhere, then driving at something like 9000 miles per hour. Once a Southerner is behind the wheel of a car, he becomes an ungodly cross between the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (I'm late! I'm late!) and a constipated grizzly bear (GRAARGH!!!). If anyone in Tennessee bothered to vote, pulling out into traffic and causing that 5 second reduction in speed while you accelerate would be punishable by instant death. Unless you're the one pulling out. Then all other drivers are worse than Hitler. I mean, for all the evil and horrible things Hitler did, he didn't disrupt traffic.
Everyone is in such a hurry that turn signals are a mere afterthought. When a Tennessee driver is gracious enough to use his turn signal, he usually begins slowing about 6 miles from where he plans to turn, eventually coming to a complete stop. Only then is the turn signal turned on, usually blinking only once before the turning of the wheel cuts it off. I really love this stunt. What I wouldn't give for guided missiles on my truck....
Well, that's about it. I hope you can use this, Mr. Bruce Cameron. --
Steve Saus sez: For some unknown reason, Texan drivers appear to be horribly afraid of the speed limit on the highway. The bravest ones may edge up to within a mile an hour of it, but that's in dire emergency (wife in labor, liquor store closing in ten minutes, etc.). However, once they've exited the freeway, all Texan drivers immediately become dyslexic, thinking that the speed limit sign saying "25 mph" really reads "52 mph" - and so they're perfectly comfortable going 40, even 45 miles an hour down side streets. --
Marc Arkinstall of Tokyo, Japan tells us: That last column was quite good, and having driven in all of those areas, I agree with you wholeheartedly.
Welcome, then, to the last true bastion of TRUE traffic insanity: Tokyo!
In Japan, street names are RARELY posted... if the street in question happens to have a name. I personally live at the intersection of "Kannana Avenue" and "that twisty street that runs between Shin-sakuradai station and the local police station". Thus, most drivers are dividing their attention between the road and they handy map in their lap (or these days, the computerized navigation system), if they aren't too busy watching a sumo match or baseball game on the dashboard television on which they've disabled the switch that turns off the video while the car is in motion.
This is a country that has roughly one police officer for every 20,000 people. That works out to roughly one traffic officer for every 100,000 people. For anyone who's not too strong in the statistics department, this basically throws the traffic rule book out the window. Japan has a reputation for being a law abiding, safe society. This is only true on the sidewalk. Point in case: I, personally, ride a motorcycle to allow me to scoot between lanes during traffic jams. When there is no traffic jam, I routinely ride 60 miles per hour down city thoroughfares with a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour. Now, to some people, this might make me seem like a speed demon... until they realize that I'm actually just trying to keep ahead of the kindly old grandmother in the Mercedes-Benz so that she won't sideswipe me.
Then we have the TRUE maniacs, the motorcycle couriers... you know the yellow line that separates the oncoming traffic lanes from the ones going in your direction? Here, that's the courier lane... at speed frequently exceeding 100 miles per hour! I've never been around when two couriers have deliveries in the opposite directions, and I'm not sure I want to be... the resulting shrapnel must shred limbs for hundreds of meters! Another interesting point... traffic being crowded and streets being narrow, police cars are very little deterrent to maniacal driving habits, as they can't move. This also has a rather interesting effect on ambulances and fire trucks. This is the first city in which I've ever seen an ambulance with sirens screaming deadlocked in traffic with the driver pleading over a megaphone for people to kindly move to the side! However, that's off the point of traffic enforcement (or lack of). The solution, it would seem, would be to deploy motorcycles, which they have done, and in fact, the Japanese motorcycle officers are quite probably the best riders I have ever seen, at ANY speed. One small thing though... the policemen's union has decreed that it is far too dangerous for these fine men to ride at night!
The lack of enforcement at night brings out a very peculiar breed of juvenile delinquent, the members of the bosozoku, or Japanese motorcycle gangs, and a scourge on local communities nationwide. They, however are Japan's crowning glory in traffic insanity... these tough-looking young hoodlums mount their heavily modified machines, and proceed to roll down a major thoroughfare, revving their engines and providing the local residents with a taste of rolling thunder from illegally modified mufflers... at precisely the legal speed limit. Go figure. --
JaneL4U@juno.com who seems to have driven EVERYWHERE adds: Traffic here is fairly predictable. You usually know what the other driver is going to do and traffic moves along at a steady, rapid clip. All goes well until one day when everything suddenly is turned upside down and goes haywire! As you hit the brakes to avoid a car that has abruptly stopped in mid-lane for no discernible reason, you remember that it's SNOWBIRD SEASON!! --
MauritsonD@aol.com had THIS to say: I plead ignorance again. This time the law seems to be that seven cars must pass through the intersection after the stop light has turned red. Even I feel compelled to comply for fear that if I am in the sixth car, the seventh is a trailer truck familiar with the law. --
Kaye from our Kapitol wrote:
I enjoyed your info on cities you have driven in or almost been driven crazy in--whichever! Having lived in Washington, D.C. for 90 percent of my life, I feel amply qualified to write thereupon.
Where to start? Potholes come to mind. How about potholes in January big enough to swallow a VW Beetle (old one, I hope)? Yep, for years, our U.S. Capitol City has just about committed a capital crime in the lack of street repair vis-á-vis cold weather/ice/salt, you know, all the things that happen every single winter in that latitude! Somewhere, the money runs out way before the temperature climbs back up and at least stays in the 40's--that's March, say St. Paddy's day or so--pushing Easter, really. How bad is it? It's so bad that the Washington Post usually hosts a call-in to report the axle-buster extraordinaires. Shucks, they even send out photographers to some of the more exotic doozies. Really.
Why should I stop at mid-winter madness when the Southeast-Southwest Freeway constantly manifests what can only be attributed to a geological volcanic aftermath anywhere else in the world? Seriously, this piece of asphalt should just be rolled into the Potomac River (SE/SW mysteriously turns into Interstate Route 95 (a.k.a. Shirley Highway) at the Virginia shoreline. I swear, the test of whether or not the Martians have landed will be if I ever drive into D.C. and experience a smooth ride on this worthless piece of macadam. You just have to drive it to believe it.
Now that I've covered potholes and bumps and cracks (Oh My!) we can move on to the drivers. Ah yes, it must be something geographical because I swear that those cursed Virginians cross the River to wreak havoc on us mild-mannered Washingtonians and Marylanders. Do they leave their manners at home or were they raised in a barn? Heck, even....well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Lets see, right-hand turns from the left lane? or straight through on red without stopping? or how about blocking the intersection? Let's just say that Road Rage may have been first noted by Californians but, boy-oh-boy, D.C. is a seething mass of anger roiling onto the front page, occasionally. Please don't let me give you the impression that all of us Washingtonians are angels because a lot of fallen ones reside right there! Some of them are disguised as taxi drivers or, worse yet, Metrobus drivers. Oh my gawd. A bus driver with an attitude can put a serious hole in your day. Did I say hole? Heavens to Murgatroid!
Pedestrians don't, repeat DON'T rule in D.C. God help you if you're on foot. Seriously. The biggest problem for people downtown at intersections, where they should (she said) be allowed to cross in the crosswalks with the light (!) is the courier dudes on their speed racer bikes. Arms and legs have been broken and folks just minding their own business have been hospitalized by those flying messengers who seriously believe they ARE Mercury. Look Out! My husband discovered that a good old Samsonite attach» case can save a thigh and hip from serious injury, at the intersection of 20th and M Streets, Northwest, one afternoon at five o'clock. Yes.
Ah, Bruce, I saved the best for last: The street system, itself. One way streets. One way streets during rush hour only. All parking banned during rush hour and towing, TOWING strictly enforced to wherever the guys can move your car, not necessarily a D.C. police towing lot, either. Oh, yes, and the very best reason to leave your car at the hotel or motel? Parking tickets of $50 a pop. That's right. Fifty dollars or two hundred quarters or ...............
D.C. is a beautiful place to visit--just use the Metro subway! --
Washington DC - watch out for Greeks bearing gifts, and cars bearing diplomatic plates. Aside from having no demonstrable training in driving an auto, most diplomats are also late for a party, and thus tend to pay even less attention to the rules of the road than their diplomatic status would ordinarily call for. And on the way back, after they've had a few... -- Bruce <email@example.com>
Have you heard about the infamous Washington Beltway, where the highway signs point you in the wrong directions? The signs directing you to Maryland actually lead to you to Virginia, while the signs labeled Virginia actually point towards Maryland. And God help you if you try to get to DC itself. Ò Ian
We're told: In the more desolate country side, Anywhere USA - for some mysterious reason, folks with shotguns feel a compelling need to shoot at road signs. Moving vehicle target practice? Dissatisfaction with the highway dept.Ìs placement or the message contained therein? Perhaps a bird was just at that moment flying in front of the sign? No one can say, but the good news is that folks shooting at signs are not too likely to be shooting at you or me.
Central Washington, and perhaps other rural areas - again a mystery, one will see miles of mailboxes that are suspended by cable or chain - not firmly attached to a post. Respect for the howling winds of the prairies? Concern that snowplows will take out fixed boxes? Or targets that yield when hit with buck shot. It is a mystery, and of course I don't have the intestinal fortitude to stop at a farm house and ask. -- Bruce <firstname.lastname@example.org>
DRIVING IN COLVILLE, WA. A bit like it must be to drive in a post apocalypse city as almost everyone has received a DUI, causing the majority of the 3000 or so people living there to walk, ride bicycles or exercise their motor driven wheelchairs. --
Jim Wiley observed: God, how I love driving in West By-God. All the roads off the "hard roads" are a generous 1 1/2 lanes wide, giving plenty of room for 18-wheelers to urge you over the side of a mountain as they barrel down on you from behind, come around blind curves toward you, or pull out in front of you with seventy-eleven tons of logs.
Better than Arizona's sandy roads are WV's coal company roads. You hop off an interstate (WV has TWO of them!) for a shortcut around the seven-mile construction backup, and you learn twelve miles up the "shortcut" that this road doesn't go anywhere. It stops at a coal company's gates, where the sign threatens you with instant death if you go one yard farther in the coal muck. Lucky you could see the sign, what with all that mud on your windshield, from the trucks passing you the other way. And you figure, as you approach the sign, wash you windshield so you can read it, "So THAT'S what those truck drivers were grinning about! It's a West Virginia Cul-de-sac!" Coulda been worse, though: it could have ended at a private distilling company, whose signs are exactly like the coal companies'. Must be a major industry in WV, printing end of road signs.
Ron from the North wrote: Winnipeg (winter) - parked cars all look like cattle heading into the wind as they nuzzle the snow drifted guard rails with their block heaters plugged into electrical cords conveniently located at each parking spot. Drive? Who drives. Cars are emergency shelters. -
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1999
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