Thursday, September 18, 2008

Friday Night Videos - California Drivers Rant

Hey, let me over jerk! Is Tron the blueprint for driving the Golden state?
Growing up in California, I've been aware for a long time of the reputation we have as automobile drivers. That we speed mercilessly, that we run stop signs and stop lights, that we drive aggressively without reason. The land of road rage as we take grudges against strangers for several miles even if it led you away from your original destination (in high school, if someone cut off one of my friends we deliberately blocked that person from making their offramp. We called this "TRONing" after the light cycles in the movie). In my own personal experience, I've found this stereotype to be very true to life and cannot claim that I'm above it myself - though by California standards I'm a pretty conservative driver. What I've found interesting though is I often thought the need for speed was one of the key factors to California recklessness. It just made sense that the faster you're travelling, the less control you have of your automobile.

Yet, with the gas crunch of the past year a weird phenomenon has happened. California drivers appear to be driving slower but still managing to be just as foolhardy (wow, I can't remember the last time I used THAT word) as ever. It seems that even at slower speeds the timing, the desire to cut people off or not let other people into the lane and then flip each other off remains. In the past few weeks alone I've seen people cut across two lanes to get off the freeway, coast through stop signs, get on an offramp and then drive off it, endless tailgating, the list goes on...all at a speed of 70mph or less (usually in these parts if you're not going 80 you get a lot of middle fingers).

When I was driving through Santa Rosa a few weeks ago, the traffic was congested (as it often is there because there is construction work being done throughout the city) and we were all travelling about 35mph. The traffic stopped, not even suddenly, but the car on my left seemed to have a temporary gap to move faster and reacted slowly. The result was a car skidding and swerving from side to side desperately trying to avoid a rear end collision. There was no accident, but when I saw the bumper sticker to the car it said it all "I brake for - all sh*t, no brakes!" It's like a conscious choice, she could drive better or buy a bumper sticker. She obviously has made her choice.

Last year we took a trip to Washington for a relatives wedding and the driving there is surreal. The roads weren't all trashed and jacked up, very little speeding went on and I was not tailgated and think was cut off just once. This included rush hour traffic when we first hit Seattle. I had to restrain my driving style because it made me feel guilty to unleash my Californianess on them, I felt like a wolf among sheep. But it proved something to me, that there is another way to drive and that getting in a car doesn't have to be a fight for survival. While I'm sure making a change like this starts with me, it would be nice if I could convince the other 37 million people here to change too. And now that the sanctimonious meter is dipping into the red, let's rock!

I know that Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" would be the perfect choice, but as the great philosopher once said "What is understood does not need to be discussed" so I'll go to my next choice. The Eagles "Life in the Fast Lane" perfectly captures for me the jaded, thrill seeking yet self destructive attitude with a laid back veneer that I think goes into California driving. My second choice is Bruce Springsteen's "Wreck on the Highway", a moving song about fear of loss.

Why do I feel like Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes? Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick...

The Eagles "Life in the Fast Lane"

Bruce Springsteen "Wreck on the Highway"


pamwax said...

I guess I better send Neil to California. He would fit right in. He is still trying to convince me that the faster you drive the better gas mileage you get...just ask a race car driver. I give up, send a silent prayer to other drivers to get out of our way and hope for the best. So far it has worked...we're still alive.

Mr. Mike said...

It sounds like Neil would fit in well here, it's like a Mad Max movie in better clothing when in Cal. Except for the traffic congestion, someone's always in your way and you're always in someone else's way. I am glad he's gotten both of you where you need to go safely!