Monday, December 13, 2010

Dude, I’m Driving Here!

I’m just guessing, but I think maybe Phoenician driving habits are related to the intense heat frying people’s brains during the long summers. Or perhaps it has to do with the mysterious Phoenix lights in the sky altering people’s interpretation of reality. Or maybe it’s the dust. Whatever the reason, driving here is a test in all the skills they tried to drill into you during driver’s ed class. Remember those old simulators that logged your response times? Remember laughing with relief when the kid chased the ball in front of your fake car because you just barely missed taking him out? While kids chasing something into the street is a fabulous reason for keeping your senses open, its other drivers I tend to worry about most. Thankfully, my horn is in good form, as I tend to use it more here than I ever did while living in Los Angeles.

Now I tend to go about five miles over the speed limit at any given time. Yeah, I’m a rebel. But seriously, I like to arrive at my destination with me and my car in one piece. However, since the freeway cameras were removed here, things have gone back to the way they were before, and driving in Phoenix freeway is tantamount to maneuvering the Indy 500 track with bad drivers behind the wheels. And, for some reason, Arizonans don’t realize what turn signals are for. Or else, they just can’t find them.

Like most of my freeway excursions, I felt lucky to make it home from the last one. So, there I am, driving along in my cute gas sipping car, not talking on a cell phone, not putting on makeup, or eating, or gazing at my GPS map, or any number of things I could do instead of actually driving, when one of these Indy dudes decides to change lanes. With no signal. And straight for me. Now, if I remember a bit of physics, no matter how hard one wishes it, two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Sadly, this basic physics lesson tends to get ignored around here. Quite a bit. So with my heart racing, no escape route in sight, and an awful image of my cute baby’s front end being removed, I pressed the horn, while yelling through my closed window, “Hey, dude! Stay in your own lane!” Luckily for me, the other driver must’ve remembered his simulator training, because he swerved back into his own lane, thus avoiding an increase in both our insurance plans.

But before my heart could get back to a normal rhythm, I spot a huge Indy truck coming up fast in my rearview mirror. This dude seemed to think that tailgating me for several miles would make my car disappear. Um, the left lanes are there for a reason. Really. Anyway, after passing several exits, he gave up on me and merged into the right lane to ride another dude’s bumper. For some reason a lot of drivers have the same misinformation as Indy truck guy and think that tailgating will cause the car ahead of them to evaporate, which explains why freeway accidents here tend to involve three or four or even five vehicles. I’m still trying to find out which page of the driving manual has this information so I can bring it to someone’s attention.

On top of the regular, misinformed dudes on the road, during winter months, like now, the snowbirds flock to town. No, I don’t mean white birds. I’m talking retirees from places where it snows and gets really, really cold and icy and stuff like that. They come here for the winter months to swim, or something they can’t do back home. And let’s face it, no Phoenician in her right mind would go in the water when it’s a freezing 68 degrees outside so they pretty much have poolside to themselves. Now, while I’m a fan of older people - I’m even friends with some - I do wish those unfamiliar with Phoenix driving habits would curb the desire to get behind the wheel if they don’t really have to. Having to break and swerve to avoid some old dude doing 45 on the freeway is a heart-pounder, especially when the Indy vehicles dominate the other lanes, and makes a treacherous drive for the rest of us who try to stay somewhere near the speed limit.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, that giving the single finger salute would be a solution to some of these problems, or at least make one feel really, really good. But this is Phoenix. And everyone is packing. And I don’t mean gum. I have enough stress without getting shot and ending up on the six o’clock news. So, dudes, my middle finger is officially on hiatus. At least until I get back home to LA, where I can give it a serious workout without fear of losing it.

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