Monday, March 3, 2014

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Driving in New York is an experience.

Now, I learned to drive in New Hampshire. Despite the fact that we don't have permits - you can legally drive at the age of 15 1/2 as long as you have your birth certificate and someone over the age of 25 in the car with you - and despite the fact that our roads are quite frequently black ice laden death traps, we're generally pretty low key drivers. We have accidents, like everyone, and we have disagreements, like everyone else.

We are particularly antagonistic towards drivers from Massachusetts. New Hampshire has somewhat of a "New York/ New Jersey" rivalry with the state, for reasons I'm not entirely clear on. Perhaps we're bitter that they have all our sports teams? One would think we would be more bitter about Vermont, which is, of course, just an upside down New Hampshire with bafflingly better tourism.

But, I digress.

I grew up hearing about Massachusetts drivers. It was always "those damn Massholes letting me go even though they have the right of way - don't they know they're holding up traffic?" Anytime a car on the road did something stupid, my parents would instantly check the plate, and if they were from Massachusetts they would nod their heads sagely and say "that makes sense."

Notice though, that despite our antagonism towards our neighbors to the south, for the most part, our rage is kept inside the privacy of our own cars, and spoken of with a healthy degree of self awareness. I know, for a fact, that most of my parents' antagonism is based on having to drive in Boston which, even those from Boston will tell you, does not do the term "clusterfuck" justice. We're aware that, for the most part, Massachusetts drivers are just like us. It's simply more fun to blame the occasional fuck up on their license plates.

That being said, any New Hampshirites possessed of genuine, rage inducing hatred toward the drivers of Massachusetts should really consider driving in New York.

To New York, New Hampshire is basically Canada, and it's easy to see why they have that view when you compare our drivers. New Hampshire is mostly trees. Even if you're in a city, like Manchester, you can bet that driving there will entail a picturesque drive through forests and tree covered mountains on a three-laned turnpike with a speed limit of 65. Unless there's an antique car show, or the tall ships have come to Portland, or you're in Nashua, you probably won't be caught in a traffic jam for longer than about twenty minutes. We drive leisurely and with little intensity unless we're in a rush, in which case we might start pushing 70. We're calm drivers because we can be. You only get aggressive when you change lanes, and even then, it's just a matter of putting on your turn signal and waiting.

This is a marked contrast to New York. In New York, it seems like everyone has somewhere to be in that exact moment and you are the one thing standing in their way. It's not a matter of "damn it, I'm stuck behind some slow, out of state asshole" it's "god damn it that slow out of state asshole needs to be taken off the road."

In New Hampshire, we're very independently minded. We're the live free or die state, after all. As a rule, we don't really interact much beyond an uptight New England head nod. If someone pisses us off, we'll just walk away. This extends to driving, which is fundamentally an individual experience. If you get cut off, you might shout about it, but you'll do it in the privacy of your own car. You might think something like "God, I'd love to just go over there and let the bastard have it" but it would never occur to you to actually do it. Their bad driving is their problem, not yours. At least your car's fine.

In New York, it's a different thing. One of the things I love about New Yorkers is their openness. A New Yorker will talk to anyone. It doesn't matter who you are, or where you are, or wether or not you're from "away". To them, there's really not much of a difference between one person and the next. Everyone is worthy of being spoken to, and of course, everyone is worthy of being yelled at.

I think my first real New York auto-experience (is that a thing?) was when I accidentally took a parking space someone had claimed outside a Bloomingdales. I didn't realize they'd had their signal on, or even that they were there. When I got out of the car, I was greeted by the face of an enraged woman in large, blue SUV.

The following conversation must be read with the understanding that the SUV lady sounded as if she were about to explode, and I sounded like I had already exploded and was trying to recover.


I step out of my car and head for the Bloomingdales entrance to the mall. I utterly fail to notice the large black SUV following me across the lot. 

Hey, you! 

I do not respond. 

You! Girl with the hair! 

At this, for some reason, I turn. 

Um, hi? 

You know that was my space! 


You just took my fucking parking space! I had my signal on, did you not see it? 

I guess I didn't. I'm sorry.

Yeah, you better be. Are you going to move it? 

Do you want me to? 

(as if it should be obvious)
YES. It was my space. 

Oh, ok. I'll just go do that. 


And so, I moved. 

This was shortly after I started driving in New York, and the experience terrified me so much it took me a few weeks before I was comfortable trying it again. It wasn't so much the woman herself that threw me, it was the fact that I was now in a place where not only was my driving being constantly watched by the drivers around me, but if I did something wrong, they'd be sure to let me know. I've been flipped off more times than I care to admit, which to a New Yorker, seems like the natural result of being a driver. 

But as long as I may live in New York, and as many times as I might find myself the target of profuse swearing on the way to New Rochelle, I will never escape my New Hampshire roots. The idea of taking the time to personally shout at someone for their driving will always seem odd to me, as will the idea of constantly driving like you're in a rush. I will forever be worried that I'm driving in the wrong lane, or taking the wrong turn, and someone will hit me. Worse, that they'll talk to me.  

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