Sunday, January 27, 2008


Driving in a city you've never been to before is a little like taking care of a friend's dog for the weekend. Except that your friend didn't tell you anything about the dog's disposition. So you have a rough idea of what dogs are like in general, and you know how to handle dogs as a whole since you've been a long time dog owner yourself. But your friend didn't tell you anything about his dog. So the first few hours (or longer) with the new dog becomes a daunting task full of misunderstandings and misadventures while you slowly learn to adapt to that dog's peculiar eccentricities.

And so is the case with driving in a new city. I've found that each city has its own unique personality when it comes to the driving characteristics of those that live there. I'm no stranger to driving, but the first hour or so in a new city is a serious test on one's ability to react to that city's particular driving idiosyncrasies and adapt to the new "norm" without getting into a wreck or causing one.

For instance, drivers in New Orleans as a whole run yellow and red lights routinely. I nearly got rear-ended several times shortly after moving to New Orleans simply because I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to stop when the light turned yellow. I never properly thanked the very crabby gentleman that alerted me to that fact as he screeched to a halt behind me, used his horn to let me know he was OK, and then thoughtfully took it upon himself to get out of his car and come up to my window to leave a film of spittle as he loudly informed me of his version of how traffic should flow.

In Philadelphia, I learned that the white lines on the streets must have been painted merely for decoration as nobody except me seemed to abide by them.

In Atlanta, I learned that the speed limit signs are simply suggestions and should be ignored at all times. Except when someone has been pulled over on the other side of the highway, on the other side of the concrete barrier, across the median, with the officer out of his car and ticketing the driver in the car. If this is the case, you're supposed to slam on your brakes and slow down to less than the speed limit immediately even if the officer isn't looking at you.

No nevermind. That's not unique to Atlanta. That seems to be every city I've ever been in.

Nathalie and I've been in Dallas the past several days attending a conference. I've become assimilated and now drive just like everybody else in Dallas. Which means I don't use my turn signal, drive at whatever speed I feel like on the highway, and if I see an open space in front of the car next to me on the highway that will barely accommodate a subcompact car, I'll quickly pull my 4Runner into it for no particular reason, only to come back into my original lane just a few hundred yards later. No turn signals, of course.

It would be nice if there was some way to be informed about the driving characteristics of each city before you get there so you can avoid becoming a traffic statistic. Maybe something at the Welcome Center along the highway as you enter the state. After you pee, you can pick up a pamphlet or something. Or maybe several large billboards as you enter the city limits that can brief you on how to modify your driving habits to match that of its citizens.

My blood pressure would definitely have appreciated having something like that several days ago.