I grew up in a small town of about 14,000 in the middle of nowhere. It was’t a suburb of anything. Our neighborhood had stop signs. There were no turn lanes; in fact, there were no lanes at all. Some of you might call it uncivilized, even barbaric, but it was home. Later we moved even farther out, into the countryside, where the streets are on a 1 mile grid. At night the only light available was provided by the Moon or other vehicles.
So it was no surprise to me that when I moved to Chicago, there would be a period of adjustment while I learned the rules of the road. Little did I know how frustrating these lessons would be.
- Green does not mean go! Back in my hometown, there were few stoplights, and they were annoying enough. Sitting at a red light for 60 seconds after all the cross-trafic has gone made us want to avoid stoplights at almost any cost. When the light finally did turn green, we’d be certain to peel out of that intersection as if it were a drag race. Not so in the big city! If you go when the light turns green you are sure to get hit. No, when that verdant light signals the go-ahead, look both ways for that idiot who is barelling through the intersection at double the posted limit, then proceed with caution.
- Do not enter the center (or turn) lane until you have come to a complete stop! I still cannot bring myself to obey this one. I thought that the steady, unimpeded flow of traffic was one of a driver’s highest concerns, and that being an impediment was an embarrassment. Not so! Imagine a 5 lane street: 2 North-bound, 2 South-bound ,and one center lane with double yellow lines. What one is supposed to do, apparently, is come to a complete stop, turn the wheel sharply, and inch into the center lane so that the vehicle is nearly perpendicular to the street, and the rear of the vehicle is still impeding traffic.
- Turn signals are optional. I should rephrase that as an inverse relationship: The more expensive the vehicle, the less necessary it is to communicate your intentions to other drivers.
- Headlights are for sissies! As I mentioned earlier, I spent my early driving years in the countryside, where headlights were an absolute necessity if you did not want to die. Not so in the city! Regardless of whether I am on the interstate or local roads, there is always at least one idiot who is driving without any lights on at all. It cannot be that they just haven’t noticed yet, I mean do they ever look at the dashboard? Some of those gauges are quite useful.
- There’s always room for one more. At stoplights there are always more cars than the light will allow to pass; that is to be expected. So what do we do when that left arrow turns red? The rule seems to be that as long as there is a car to follow, keep plowing through the intersection! Eventually the flow of oncoming traffic will cut off the turning vehicles, leaving one car stranded in the center of the intersection. Cross traffic will have to wait an extra 5 seconds while that idiot gets out of the way, which will make them push even harder to get just one more car through.
- Leave room to creep. This one is now a pet peeve of mine. I was taught to stop with just enough room to see where the tires of the car in front of me touch the road. But when I do that, the car in front of me almost immediately creeps forward another full car length. Then I feel like an idiot for having a huge gap in front of me, especially when, if I were to move up that extra car length, the car behind me would be able to make it into the left turn lane. This uncontrollable urge to creep is especially funny when the creeper is the first car in line. I have seen creepers end up in the middle of a 4 lane intersection before the light turned green. And what do you think they do when the light does turn green? Do they go? No, they look both ways, waiting for that crazy nut going twice the speed limit to plow through the intersection first. On more than one occasion I witnessed a creeper creep all the way to the middle of the intersection, then just go while the light was still red. One time the guy behind him took off and went through the red light too.
- Stop signs are optional. If there isn’t a stop light, the intersection apparently is considered uncontrolled. I have witnessed everything from the rolling stop to the nod-to-the-stop-sign-as-you-continue-unimpeded through the intersection.
- Every stop sign is a 4 way stop. This is the case when more than one car is approaching the intersection. It seems that city drivers don’t trust each other in the least, and I cannot blame them. If you are approaching a 2 way stop sign, and another vehicle is approaching the intersection from your right and he stops, what do you do? He has the right of way! It just baffles me. I think the proper response is to get out of your car, smack him in the head, and say “NO! That’s a BAD driver! No!” That’s the only way they will learn.
- Round Robin? What the hell is that? Every time the power goes out, the stop lights at the busiest intersections are the first to be affected, and the last to be reset. What ensues can only be described as a ballet of invalids. Sometimes one car sometimes three all try to go through the intersection at the same time. With everyone trying to treat it like a 4 way stop, racing up to the line, then in total uncertainty, doing little jerky false starts, as if they are trying to fake out the other drivers. This isn’t freakin’ basketball people!
- Highways are race tracks! I like to drive fast, but for the sake of my family and my wallet I drive only as fast as the nearby traffic. Not like that white Lexus IS300 in my rear view mirror, I mean passing me at 110mph, I mean crossing 5 lanes of traffic to exit the highway. And don’t even think that it might be safe to follow that guy, because by the time you get your car up to 110mph, he’ll be slamming on his brakes because his radar detector beeped.
- Drive faster than the car in front of you. I don’t know what those driving instructors in Wisconsin were thinking! They told us that the safest driving speed is the same speed as the cars near you. How could I have been so foolish as to believe them? Obviously driving faster than the car in front of you is going to necessitate some amount of passing, unless you enjoy causing accidents. But therein lies the rub, for once you pass another vehicle, you have basically called him a pussy for driving too slow. The assumption therefore is that anyone in front of you is calling you a pussy for being behind them.
- When merging, wait till the last second. I always thought that when a lane is ending, everyone should merge in an orderly fashion, but in the city that will only make you last in line. What you are supposed to do is race up as far as you can, and try to merge in with another vehicle. When they don’t let you in, race up to the next merging vehicle and try again.
- No right turns on red! Period! Sure traffic is a little denser down here in the big city, but barring a sign or a light prohibiting such, right turns are always legal… as long as you stop first. At least that is what I used to think. Apparently that right lane is primarily for people going straight who want to get ahead of the line. The sorry few who do wish to turn right either think it is too dangerous, or that they missed the NO TURN ON RED sign.
- The left turn lane is a good place to pass. Here’s how it works. If you are going straight at the next intersection, and there is a long line already (remember they are all calling you a pussy), just check the left turn lane. If it’s empty, you are home free. Putyour left turn signal on, and get in there. Wait a few seconds, then turn your right turn signal on, and make eye contact with the guy to your right. If he acknowledges you, then you have just passed a huge line of cars! If the light turns green before he notices you, just gun it, but watch out for that idiot going twice the speed limit.
All of these confusing rules lead to some pretty aggitated drivers who want nothing more than to get back home as quickly as physically possible. With that in mind, and with a sense of humor, you may be able to get through your daily commute without bursting a blood vessel. Otherwise, you will probably end your life in an apoplectic fit… and flames, horrible burning flames.