After nearly seven months, we are still undergoing a bit of culture shock with the driving habits of Floridians. To put it mildly, the roads and highways here are a bit like the prairies of the wild, wild west. I’m now so used to being followed within an inch or two by other cars that I’m even starting to steer towards the right while strolling at the mall. Suddenly I’m an easy mark for the over-zealous GNC saleswoman hawking Ginkgo Biloba.
I lived in California for almost 12 years and did my fair share of driving through L.A. during rush hour; I know what it’s like to drive on the I-405 going 70 mph at the Getty Center curve with huge trucks on either side of my small Toyota. I’ve driven on the NYC Belt Parkway, the LIE, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway at major holiday times such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I’ve done more than my share of negotiating gridlock on the Capital Beltway around Washington, DC. But so far nothing has hit anger levels such as those that we’ve seen on Florida roads. Florida drivers show enmity to such a degree that ISIS might even be embarrassed by it.
To be sure, some of our reaction to this is colored by the fact that we came from such a different environment in Oregon. Portland drivers — along with its general populace — take kindness and courtesy to such an extreme that it’s almost ridiculous. I knew we were in a different social milieu during our first week there, when we came upon a neighborhood home whose dwellers had set out a plate of cookies and tiny cartons of milk along with a sign that actually said, “Enjoy some cookies and milk!” Now that takes kindness to whole new levels, but it’s just how it is in Portland.
We found most Portlandians’ driving habits to be as courteous as their cookie sharing. Generally speaking, we never suffered from tailgaters, rude gestures, or stares while on their streets and highways. In fact, not once in ten months of living there did I receive as much as a car horn in response to a traffic mistake I might have made.
My favorite Portland anecdote, and one that so completely fits the hilarious spirit of the TV show “Portlandia,” was when my wife and I were preparing to cross the busy Belmont street in Southeast. There was absolutely no traffic on it except for one lone bicyclist. But Portland bicyclists are adamant about road-sharing etiquette, and they seem to always behave in only the most civil of manners. This particular cyclist in true character made a grand show of coming to a complete stop so that we could cross the street. He then wished us “an amazing day” and went on his dignified way. We still laugh about that, and I apparently have found a way to mention it in my blog.
Sadly, our driving experiences in Florida have not touched upon the same cultured road decorum as found in Portland. On a fairly frequent basis, we witness road rage with drivers screaming out the window at one another, horns blaring, and faces angry enough to make a Fox News anchor jealous.
Even your humble blogger was recently provoked by an impatient pick-up driver after pulling into a shopping center. It seems that the good man in the Silverado was in a hurry, and apparently felt that I wasn’t moving fast enough to his satisfaction. I wanted to oblige his needs for rapid movement, but sadly there were several cars, plus at least one pedestrian crossing my path at the time. As helpful as my vehicular manslaughter would have been to speed things along for him, I decided it wasn’t in my best interest to pursue it. He and I then engaged in a brief exchange of personal observations and constructive criticisms. One or both of our ancestors I think were mentioned, with unfortunately my late mother becoming a rhetorical target. I suspect his casting of the first stone had something to do with his having a rather diminutive bearing — he did own a rather large truck after all. I hope he’s able to reconcile that someday.
Today we traveled on I-95 to West Palm Beach so that Gorgeous could visit her dentist. The trip is slightly over an hour, and sadly we got a late start because someone decided that it would be nice to take his laptop with him, which resulted in an endless protocol of unhooking cables, finding the travel bag, etc. The delay required me to drive much faster than I usually do — speeds of up to 80 mph in some places, which is unheard of for me. I am primarily a right lane driver who goes no more than five mph over the speed limit. I will go faster if I need to, but I am mostly interested in avoiding a speeding ticket. I’m funny that way. But fear not, you fast-lane drivers, I am not that guy who blissfully forgets to move back into the right lane after passing someone. I know my place.
Adding to the fun, my darling wife took a dentist-prescribed, low-dose of Ativan to calm her nerves prior to the appointment. It is always amusing watching her as the medicine begins to enter her blood stream, the music playing on the radio that hits her in such a profound way. I must admit I’m always a bit jealous — I too would like to experience Steve Hackett’s guitar in the most mellow of moods.
As Gorgeous entered her Special Place, I kept up with the roadsters in order to make the appointment on time. I had a few white-knuckle moments when I had to change lanes frequently, mostly from the right, to the middle, and then back. All around us cars were whizzing by at speeds of 90+, honking horns, and all glancing over at one another. God knows what they were thinking as they came up on my Toyota with its “Teach Your Children Well” bumper sticker displayed on the back. I imagine that a table of 20-somethings are laughing about it in a South Beach bar this evening. Stodgy old codger.
A feeling of profound satisfaction came over me when we reached our destination with only five minutes to spare. We were in one piece, and nary an epithet was aimed at nor uttered by thee.
The dental appointment didn’t last long. Only a slight change had to be made to her bridge, and then we were once again in the car with a stop at Trader Joe’s before getting back on the highway.¹ Gorgeous stayed in a happy place the entire time, and we drove back home safely in the right lane, music playing to soothe the savage beast within us.
Tomorrow she has an appointment with the podiatrist just three miles down the road. God help us.
¹ If you’re the type who likes to sneak in normally verboten food stuff into the shopping cart, I highly recommend doing so when your spouse is medicated. It’s amazing what you can pile in there.