Here’s Some Driver’s Education
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron
(stolen from http://www.wbrucecameron.com/driving.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. Worst 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.