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Here and there.

September 29, 2011

I was in Albany, N.Y., recently for a grad school residency and stayed with a friend about an hour away from where the hotel headquarters was. That meant some driving back and forth in a borrowed truck with headlights that are dimmer than my mind right now — and that’s pretty dim, because it’s late and I’m really tired.

The lights were so dim (“How dim were they?” I can hear a 1970s TV audience bark back) that you couldn’t see the white lines on the road at night. I had to follow the cars around me and pray a lot.

Anyway, the intense focus I had on the road those evenings reminded me of how the differences in driving from state to state force you to be on your toes. And that’s a good thing.

In San Antonio, the major thoroughfares are marked at 65, even 70 mph, even through the city. We know where we want to go and we’re going to get there as quickly as possible. As soon as the traffic lifts, that is. On one of the large loops around the city, you can go 70, but usually only at 4 a.m., even though the night-time speed limit is dropped 5 mph.

In New York, the speed limit is never above 65 and often only 55, even on major roads. That meant slowing down a bit from my foot’s programmed pedal-to-the-metal reflexes. Not everyone in New York drove that fast; most were faster, exceeding the speed limit by quite a bit. When my friend was taking me to the airport so I could return home, a van ahead of us decided it was his duty to make sure people went the speed limit through a road construction area. He tried to pull into our lane just as my friend had tried to pass. And he reached his arm out the window, offering a few hand gestures, one involving his middle finger.

So, we stayed back a distance and watched him try to pull the same stunt with other drivers. He got ugly and occasionally dangerous in a five- or six-mile stretch. The worst was when he pulled in front of a semi and refused to budge. You could almost hear the drivers of passing cars yell at him.

I understand road rage all too well and why it has become a feeling that connects many of us. I lose it whenever somebody stops in the middle of the road and wonders why others are irrirated at their behavior. Can’t we see that they’re talking on the phone?

That’s where New York driving laws are better than in Texas. We may move faster — when you’re out on a deserted highway between here and nowhere with 10 hours to go before you get to a place like El Paso — you don’t want to dawdle. But you can talk on the phone while driving in Texas (except in school zones but you can’t move faster than 20 mph in those anyway). In New York, talking and texting while driving was recently outlawed, and I, for one, applaud the effort. If you have to talk on the phone, pull off the road. It’s that simple.

Of course, I can’t talk on the phone in my car. it’s a standard and you just can’t hold the phone in one hand, hold the wheel with another and try to shift. It just doesn’t work, unless you’re blessed with more than two hands. And if you are, baby, would you drive my car?


From → #CMC11

One Comment
  1. Aaron permalink

    I moved to the Capital District (Albany area) after living in Boston for a while. Apparently it was long enough to completely change my driving habits. I noticed this as I was regularly driving 20+ MPH over the limit and was confused as to why everyone was so slow.

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