Friday, June 4, 2010

The Lay of the Land

I learned to drive in Kentucky, you know, on those winding roads about as wide as your average egg noodle, where the denizens of the Bluegrass kindly nudged me along from about an inch behind my bumper. A mile or two later, when the road curved sharply left at the top of a hill, they'd blitzkrieg by me in a blaze of glory, a trail of empty Coors Light cans in their wake. I miss home.

College in Indiana afforded me a new view of the driving world. Somewhere between Indiana-26 and Indiana-18 lay the only three hills in the state. There, college students occasionally took breaks from their cloves and Moldy Peaches to ride crazy on Devil's Backbone, the lone lane stretching over the Hoosiers' three hills. I can only assume that those daring captains of adventure who christened Devil's Backbone envisioned Beelzebub as some kind of overgrown nightcrawler, fearsome as a baby meerkat and tougher than a rabbit's resolve.

Devil's Backbone is a straight, two-lane road with some gently sloping hills. That's it. Amazingly, that didn't stop my hallmates running into my room with eyes popped and breath fast.

"So-and-so-has-a-minivan-so-like-twelve-of-us-are-going-on-a-backbone-run-do-you-wanna-come?!" they'd say.

"Uh, not today, thanks. I got all my thrillsies on those deathtrap teacups at Disney back in '87."

Then the road opened unto me in California, and lo, there was much to fear. I can sum it up with this: at least once a week I'd merge onto the 101 from Hollywood Blvd, slamming the accelerator to reach traffic speed. From there, I'd have 3/4 of a mile to cross five lanes of traffic, which miraculously was both bumper-to-bumper and 70 mph. A few heart attacks later, I'd finally exit to Barham Blvd, and from there it was a straight shot to church. In L.A., no one lets you in, by the way. You're not getting a wave and a smile just because you turn on your blinker. Oh no. You have to grit your teeth, swerve in front, cut off, and butt in if you expect to get anywhere and/or survive.

Now Oregon. Oh Oregon.

A little over a month ago I finally got my Oregon driver's license, and never have I been more ashamed to have my name associated with a group of people. (And this is coming from someone who once captained an academic team.) I learned a few new driving rules during my test, though, and I'd like to share them with you now.

Oregon Driving Rules
  1. The speed limit is a suggested speed only. Should you think 50 mph a bit reckless for a six lane highway, please slow down and move into the left lane. There, you will be in the company of many friends.
  2. Stop signs have eight sides to remind you to wait at least eight seconds at every stop.
  3. When turning onto a road, check to see that the coast is clear before making your turn. If it appears clear, check again. Continue checking until you're absolutely sure. By this time, a line of traffic might be making its way toward you. Wait to make sure that the driver in the first car can see the whites of your eyes. Congratulations! Now you may pull out.
  4. When approaching a Right Green Arrow, stop, look both ways, and turn right.
  5. Car accidents don't happen on your commute every day, so be sure to slow down and enjoy the view when you see two drivers exchanging insurance information in the opposite lane.
  6. You know what, Oreganos? You're so used to precipitation that you don't need to turn your lights on if it's raining. Don't even bother.
  7. The Left Arrow. Of all the rules, this rule you must obey without fail, without pause, without exception, without turning to the right or the...uh...follow the rule. If you are waiting in a left turn lane at an intersection and the left arrow turns from red to green, WAIT. Don't go rushing into things here. We at the DMV know you've got conversations to finish, veggie burgers to eat, and staring off into the distance to do before you make that turn. After the arrow switches to green, count to five and then mosey on into the intersection.
Rule #7 baffles me more than anything else about driving in this speed-forsaken land. It's not enough that everyone consistently goes 10 mph below the speed limit (no exaggeration, by the way). No, no, they must also make you wait two rounds at intersections while they stare at the pretty traffic lights. I have a theory that the Green Movement has so deeply overtaken the subconscious of Northwesterners that when the lights turn green the drivers automatically look around their cars for cans to recycle and organic gardens to plant.

My daily commute is teaching me patience; I won't deny that. And it's reminding that if slow drivers comprise my greatest problem, then really, I'm not in too bad a state.


Keeping Up With the Joneses said...

Ahhh. I can go to bed tonight having received my Emily blog fix. Thanks, hon. It's wonderful reading the words from my most talented and gifted student. Oh, by the way, if you're looking for a little extra pen $, send this article to someone in the "local" section of your newspaper. They just might be interested.

Six in the Mix said...

Glad you're back in Blogland.

Natalie said...

Laughing and laughing and laughing!! Love your theory about the green movement...I think you've hit the nail on the head.

Charlene said...

Great post!

I am #3, according to my friend Reggie. [blush]