Monday, May 01, 2006

driving miss crazy

I used to buy into the conventional wisdom that Massachusetts drivers are the nation's worst. I myself was a Masshole for several years, and took a perverse pride in having the Mass plate on my car, thinking it had some kind of intriguing multirelational significance regarding my having learned to drive in Missouri -- where, I should point out, traffic routinely comes to a grinding halt when something unexpected happens, like, oh, the sun coming up in the morning -- and moving to Massachusetts, land of the left-turn-from-the-right-lane.

I take it all back. Massholes may be defensive; they may be rude; they may not entirely understand what that little stick to the left of the steering wheel has to do with the action of changing lanes. But at least they know how to drive without instilling the fear of imminent and fiery death into others on the road.

You think I'm exaggerating, right?

This weekend, Jim and I had to drive from Portland, Maine to Summit, New Jersey, by way of Queens, New York. (Gotta love New England, where three hours on the road can take you through four or five states.)

Maine was fine. OK, Maine drivers are not the best when it comes to surface roads. Apparently in the 100 hours of training required of all teenagers who wish to obtain a license, no time is devoted to how to manage a four-way stop sign. However, when it comes to the open highway, Mainers do pretty well. They leave a nice following distance and almost always signal when changing lanes. They might drive fifteen miles over the speed limit, but they're going to flirt with death as safely as possible.

I used to see that as a sign of weakness. I've learned my lesson.

New Hampshire was also fine, given that traversing seacoast New Hampshire basically means keeping your eyes peeled for cops as you and your fellow Mainers try to get out of New Hampshire as quickly as automotively (and vaguely legally) possible.

I-495 through Massachusetts? Lovely. Not too much traffic, and aside from the fact that John Greenleaf Whittier has not one but two highway-accessible rehabilitation hospitals named after him strikes both me and Jim as slightly odd, nothing to report.

And then: Connecticut.

Driving through Connecticut is always the bane of my roadtrip existence. No matter how well it's going, if I take the wheel, there will be bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic and, usually, a freak deluge. But this weekend, I noticed something new, something much less annoying and much more mind-bogglingly horrible than an inability of the infrastructure to handle the auto load.

Connecticut drivers are insane.

All throughout the state, from I-84 to I-91 to I-95 (which you catch in scenic New Haven, just adding to the pleasure of the trip), I feared for our lives.

For several miles on I-91, a small white car labeled "Carrying School Children" puttered along at about fifty-two miles per hour in the left lane. I don't even know where to begin describing the havoc this caused. People were peeling out and sliding across three lanes of traffic to the right to pass this "bus" (which I established was transporting one teenaged boy who had his headphones on while the driver stared straight ahead). Now, yes, normally I would move out and pass on the right too, but this system took a form I'd never fathomed. The cars in question would swerve out at ninety miles per hour, usually with less than half a car length in which to maneuver, and then would get angry at the car traveling a mere seventy and using its blinker that prevented them from, I don't know, getting to the next exit at warp speed. (And yes, the blinkering car was usually mine.)

Several people swore as they passed us on the right. However, I was trying desperately to get farther right so these idiots could do their ninety-mile-an-hour drag race in the lane just to the right of the slowpoke, rather than sliding all the way across. They were too busy being pissed at my only going seventy to let me over, preferring instead to gun it past me and send rude gestures and window-muted cursing my way. This happened not once, not twice, not thrice, but so many times I lost count. There was the great moment when three people tried to do it at once. Apparently, the laws of physics that claim that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same moment in time do not apply in Connecticut.

I thought that the violent passing system was going to represent the extent of terrible driving decisions, but sadly, I thought too soon. The traffic hit on I-91 when we passed what was clearly a just-occurred accident. A smallish silver S.U.V. had rolled a few times down the grassy median, landing on its hood and windshield. We saw the ambulance taking away one person on a stretcher. That person was moving. As we passed the car, though, I saw that the other side of it had been far more extensively crushed, just like a giant foot had come down Python-style and stomped it the way you stomp a soda can. I could only pray that no one was in that side of the car.

You'd think, perhaps, that after driving right by a horrific crash with injured passengers just being taken away and with several ambulances still making their way, sirens blaring, to the scene, drivers would not accelerate back to ridiculous speeds just past the site, still in view of the police, and honking at those who aren't speeding up quite yet.

If you were in Connecticut, you'd think wrong.

That was enough for me. You could not pay me enough at that moment to get over the Connecticut border. I've never driven in such a paranoid manner in my life, checking my mirrors obsessively and moving away from anyone who got within a couple of car lengths of me. It didn't work -- these drivers had no concept of, much less respect for, other people trying to share the road and follow the most basic of driving laws. At one point, a semi driver tried to force me off an exit ramp that I entered before he did. We engaged in a forced-by-him game of chicken, and although he did not, in the end, drive directly over my vehicle, I almost started crying. Once out of Connecticut, I was home free. I'm in the wrong lane on the Triboro Bridge? No worries -- look, someone is actually letting me over! The parade of BMWs on the New Jersey Turnpike has no respect for any kind of convention as to which lanes serve which purposes? Fine -- they've left ample room for me to find my own lane. Four minivans on the Garden State Parkway definitely seemed to be engaging in some kind of race to the finish line, but nothing -- nothing -- will ever compare to the insanity I witnessed all up and down Connecticut's highways.

On the way back?

Jim drove through Connecticut.


Fiona said...

I went driving with my Mam for the first time in several years (I was learning to drive when my Dad died, and used that as an excuse to give up). Now I am going to stop, because driving in Connecticut sounds like driving in Dublin. Dubliners laugh at Kildare drivers because they drive too slow. I am going to move to Kildare.

Hi, honey. Sorry I have been so quite lately. I will mail you soon. When are you heading to France? I am actually going to Paris for my birthday! The in-laws (every last one of them) are coming too, but I will enjoy myself despite that :) Just kidding! The McLoughlins know I love them.

mousebreath said...

where do you get all the pictures? they're fabulous! :)