|Everybody's Got One
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Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Some observations from my latest too-quick trip out of town (inspired by Mike at Cold Fury and his wonderful post of a few days ago) regarding some quirks of assorted SouthEast drivers in their native habitats. (Some day I hope to travel through Quebec and see if they really drive like that at home. Inside a Volvo or a HumVee, of course.)
Georgians, at least north of Atlanta, tailgate like crazed lemmings. They also don't classify lanes as fast/faster/fastest but instead categorize them as My Lane/Not My Lane Yet. South Carolinians have failed to grasp the fundamental concept of the acceleration lane – although, to be fair, perhaps it's simply merging that they have issues with. Unlike Georgians, who have been rumored to have turn signals surgically removed to provide better access to their cell phones, the Gamecock protocol is, if you actually use your signal, you are declaring an intention to cut across as many traffic lanes as you deem necessary, without regard to whether anyone is actually in those lanes at the time. Beware or be twisted metal.
North Carolinians, at least in the western parts, consider passing someone to be a grave personal insult, possibly duel-worthy. Therefore they pull gingerly alongside and slowly, imperceptibly, excruciatingly inch forward and reluctantly past, trapping traffic behind both cars while they seek to avoid giving offense or showing someone up. The slur appears especially grevious on hills. Tennesseans, in contrast – or perhaps in aggravated reaction – pass quickly, and as quickly zip in front of the passee, and then slow down. This can initiate a fun-filled diversion called highway leapfrog, which in certain circumstances can entertain weary travelers for mile after mile after mile after mile, until one player resigns the field by pulling into a Rest Area – or in extreme cases, a chenille outlet.
I have no earthly idea what Alabamans are thinking out there on the highway – if anything. I'd probably have to spend more time in the state to figure it out, and frankly it's just not that important to me. I did notice a seemingly disproportionate number of disability plates on the road, however. Maybe the authorities pass them out on spec along with the marriage license for cousins-or-closer.
I have left Virginia for last, of course, because Virginians are arguably the worst drivers this side of Boston. And darn proud of it, too. I'm not familiar with the Dominion's driver test, but I strongly suspect it has a cut-off point, a built-in low-pass filter, at which you can't be licensed if you score above it. There's a section of I-95 between Richmond and the Alexandria suburbs that I drive on occasion, where 5% of the traffic stays in the right lane, at about 5 or 10 miles below the speed limit (locals and farm folk, mostly); another 20% stays in the middle lane, with their cruise controls locked down at the speed limit and their brains securely in Park. This leaves the other 70% stacked up in the left lane, or zooming to the right and quickly back as they see openings to allow them to maneuver through and past these slow-moving road hazards. Out west along 81 the Virginians' skill and self-absorption levels are no better, but lower truck traffic through the mountains makes the road less of a nightmare. Some of these morons you just want to force to the side of the road at gunpoint, shoot out their tires, and burn their licenses in front of them.
But that would be wrong.
One further rant, not region-specific: Between metropolitan areas on the interstate system, the posted speed limit is a consensually accepted floor, not a ceiling. (Metro areas are different, because of traffic patterns and volume and usage and general cluelessness and such, but for intercity travel ... oh yeah. 40mph? HA.) If your car or trailer or loaded-down pickup can't maintain that pace for extended stretches of flat terrain, then get the hell off the expressway. Use the blue highway two-lanes. You'll be happier over on the scenic route, and so will all the traffic you're not obstructing.
RVs are a special, tougher case. They have the size and maneuverability of trucks, but are operated by people who only know how to drive cars. One possible fix would be requiring a certificate from a semi or busman's driving school before you're allowed to rent or purchase one – but my libertarian impulse recoils from that. Maybe the insurance carriers could practice a little self-interested communal responsibility on this one. Failing that, the rest of us will just have to give a wide berth, pass quickly, and be very afraid when we see an RV and orange work-area barrels together ahead of us on the road.
Maybe I should just get a CD player or something ... posted by Kelly | 9:11 PM link