Most of the time, I’m a relaxed driver. I usually drive at or slightly above the speed limit, and I will always let another car merge in front of me. I’m rarely in a big hurry, and I try to watch out for pedestrians and bikes.
Recently, though, I have occasionally found myself in unfamiliar surroundings. When that happens, I get a bit tense. I use a Garmin or Google Maps to reassure me, and I depend on them a lot when I’m finding a new route. Sometimes they give me the right directions at the right time, and sometimes they don’t. In particular, they don’t always let me know which lane to use in enough time to get me there. Otherwise, they are pretty good. I always get where I want to go, eventually. I usually allow lots of time because I want to feel confident that if I have to double back or go around the block I won’t be anxious about it.
The other times when I am less than relaxed are at night. Since I had cataract surgery, driving at night has become a bit more difficult. I see a complex halo around every headlight, street light, traffic light, and emergency vehicle light. It’s as though each light is in the middle of a spider’s web of light. When I recently drove through downtown San Jose at night, the spiders’ webs were everywhere and so were the pedestrians wearing black and the scooters with no lights at all. You will understand, then, why I rarely drive at night.
Sometimes in a new neighborhood, I have to navigate other new experiences as a driver. A few weeks ago, in daylight, I was about to turn left at an intersection that had unfamiliar traffic lights. I was momentarily confused by the red left turn light for the cross traffic because it seemed to be pointed in my direction, so I paused. Then I realized that it wasn’t for me, but not until the car behind had honked loudly. Really? You can’t wait a few seconds for a visitor to figure out a strange intersection? If you had paid attention you would have seen my Alberta plates and realized they were out of place in Monterey. A little logic would tell you: hmmm, visitor, unfamiliar territory, uncertain about the rules, not used to the neighborhood. But no. You just blasted the horn.
So, yes, some California drivers get irritated by me. But that’s ok. I get irritated by some of them, too. I find that they tend to drive faster and more closely than I am used to. I thought it was just me, but when my son visited last year he found the same thing. I’m ok with it, but it usually takes me a week or two to get into the rhythm of things. I have learned to speed up a lot more on the on-ramps and to keep up with the cars, most of which are driving far above the speed limit on the freeways.
One of the tricks is learning to point the car toward the next lane when you need a space. Just putting on the turn signal is not enough. You have to make the car’s body language much more assertive than it is used to. Sometimes, the other cars don’t actually make room for you until you cross the dotted line. It’s a bit like a game of chicken, and California drivers only respect the determined and obstinate.
Some people are more determined and obstinate than others, and about one percent of those drivers think that it’s all a race that they are intent on winning. They are the ones who drive as though they are on speed, the lanes don’t matter, and everyone but them is a loser. Those people are terrifying. I always wonder why they take so many risks and if they think they are on one of those fantasy highways in car commercials. Those roads never have any traffic, the cars are always taking curvy bends by the ocean, the sky is always blue, and they always end up parking somewhere remote where there are no other cars.
California is, of course, nothing like that. Its highways are always packed, the roads are mostly straight, and it’s hard to find anywhere to park that has no other cars. If anything, those car advertisements look less like California and more like Alberta where there are long empty spaces and less traffic tension. If the ads were filmed in Alberta, though, the cars would be driving more slowly and there would be other cars around. The drivers would wave “Thank you” when someone let them into their lane, and they would all park in the parking lot before hiking to the lookout.
These thoughts all came about because someone on Twitter recently asked if we ever respond to inanimate objects as if they were human. I said that I sometimes did. The other day I said “Holy Cow! What is your problem?” to a car, but I would never say that to its driver. That would be crossing the line.