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Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to drive

How to drive
Copyright 2009, Jim Penny
Word count: 3100

Y'all need some help, and I'm here to offer it. You're probably already seated, but you're going to need some paper and a pencil for the notes I know you'll want to take. Alternatively, you can print this tutorial, and make your notes in the margins. In this case, you may also use a highlighter. I suggest pink, but other colors are acceptable if you simply cannot do any better.

We are going to frame this learning using the context of my drive to work, which will include a railroad track, a convenience store, and an interstate. You're getting it all wrong in every situation, which takes a special talent, and this framework will give you the concrete visualization you need.

The driveway

We have a quarter-mile of driveway. In this country, we drive to the right. You should do the same. We do not drive in the center of the driveway except during those rare snowfalls when you should just stay home anyway. Even then, you're going to occasionally meet someone coming down the drive. When you do, drive to the right, dang it all. Do not make the other person stop, pull up on the curb, and wait for you to pass. You should seek to be more neighborly.

Your vehicle is not an explosive device under normal circumstances. You do not have to stop before each speed bump, pray to your personal deity to deliver you safely over the speed bump, and then creepy-crawl over the bump while holding your breath because you do not trust your personal deity. The bumps are in place to help maintain the 20 mile per hour speed limit, and you can go over them at 15 to 20 MPH without doing any damage whatsoever to you or the vehicle. Of course, that cup of coffee sitting on the dash could be at risk. I might hold the coffee. If you go over the speed bump at 50 MPH, you'll need to visit a dentist when they release you from the ICU. However, you might also be a ward of the state at that point, and your dental care will be a lot cheaper. Bubba will be so pleased with your frugality.

At the bottom of the drive, we turn right onto Blue Ridge Road. I do not mind that you might want to turn left. I'll gladly wait the two hours until the traffic clears, though I'd really like it if you'd reciprocate when I'm turning left, even if I am doing so at non-busy times and will only need 30 seconds for the road to clear. If your left turn is an erstwhile u-turn into the Kmart parking lot, I think you are about the laziest thing on this planet, and I wish someone on a bulldozer from the business down the street would just mash you and your car flat, leaving the residue on the road as a warning to your peers.

The speed limit on Blue Ridge is 45, and that's miles per hour, not warp. In addition, there's a police substation in the office park to your right, and one day they're going to notice your speeding bohunkuss. Remember that you can drive 50 here, and arrive at the dollar movie exactly two seconds sooner, and you'll loose those precious seconds trying to turn into the lot, and then scouting the vacant space closest to the door. I also hope your movie theater is filled with small, unhappy, and very vocal pre-schoolers.

A little further down Blue Ridge, we have a pair of traffic lights for the two intersections that are separated by the railroad tracks. These lights are not there to brighten your days with colors. There are also extra lights that go with the railroad tracks. These extra lights are important to you when they are flashing. Ignore them, and your beneficiaries will be thrilled unless they were hoping to get the car.

In your approach, the first light is for the street that more or less parallels Hillsboro Street. The left turn lane at this intersection is specific to this intersection. It is not a preamble to the left turn at the next intersection. This small specificity is not generally known in the motoring public, despite the minute-by-minute citations issued by Raleigh's officials. Maybe those autographs are good for a free drink downtown or something. If you have one, let me know.

We want to go straight through both intersections. I suggest that you accomplish this using the left go-straight lane. Otherwise, you'll just have to change lanes further on where the traffic is usually thicker. The lights for these two intersections are synchronized, and you are unlikely to be stopped in the middle unless you're doing something wrong. Why is that, you might ask? The middle contains the railroad track, and if you're stopped there, and a train comes along, it's gonna hurt, and Bubba will not be there to help you, no matter how much he wants to be.

However, you'll occasionally reach this intersection such that you do not have to stop. This is your lucky day. Bear in mind that there are many ways of celebrating your freaking lucky day without becoming the mote in my eye. As with the speed bumps, you do not have to worry that your car will explode as you cross the tracks. It probably won't even fall apart, though there are a few of you driving cars that I wonder about.

A reasonable speed for crossing the tracks is about 30 to 40 MPH, a little slower if you planning to turn right or left, though I hit at at 40 to 45 when I can because I know my car will not fall apart in doing so; I'm also going about as straight as I can or ever will.

At no speed, will you damage the tracks. You have no need to slow down to make your lucky moment last an hour. If you really need to kill some time, stop at the adjacent Shell station, say good morning to the friendly people there, get a fountain Coke, buy a lottery ticket, and count your many blessings this day, not the least of which will be that you're not in my freaking way this morning.

At some point, you're through the intersections and on your way. The traffic thickens as you approach the top of the hill past the Fair Grounds. Aggressive driving is still at a minimum here because of the NC Highway Patrol station just to the right. People drive better here out of respect for the Patrol's used car lot. Those old cruisers have been through a lot. I know; I have one, and it makes you slow down at night. Wait until I get that CB radio antenna on it. You also slow down when I wear a straw hat, especially at night, and I assume you're trying to get a better, more admiring look at it, if not me.

Go over the Wade Avenue bridge, and prepare to turn left. This will put you on Wade Avenue, the last part before reaching the interstate. The speed limit here is 55. Just a mile earlier, the limit was 45. In this final section, The problem is that this last section of Wade Avenue looks like the interstate, and people start driving like it was. I suppose a few are looking to get their speed up so they're ready for the merge, but I suspect others have different motives. For example, a lot of people drive to work in the morning like they're going to get laid upon arrival. If this is true, perhaps I should change jobs.

On Wade Avenue, I get in the left lane and set the cruise control at a touch over 55, and I do mean a touch, like one or two over, not 20 or 30. I do this for two reasons. First, this is the lane that will take me straight to my work exit. If I settle here, I do not have to make a lane change on the big road. My other reason is to elevate your blood pressure, especially after you realize that I'm not with the federalies. You'll ride my bumper and curse my slow speed in the high speed lane, and I will send you vibes to inform you that the speed limit of 55 applies to all lanes. It's a limit. It is not a challenge or a suggestion. I might even point to the sign if I really want to tick you off. At some point, you'll flash your lights at me. This is my signal to slow down to exactly 55. You're quite welcome.

At the top of the hill, the left lane of Wade Avenue becomes the right lane of I-40. We have about six miles to go. As the merge is in progress, I press the cruise control button to speed up. You should too. However, you won't because you don't use cruise control, and when I am the Queen of the Realm, you will be in even more trouble. For my part, if you don't use cruise control on the big road, you do not deserve to live on this planet. There is no reason why we should be taking turns passing each other out there because you can't hold your speed while talking on your cell phone.

Within a few hundred yards, I have my speed set at 69 because it humors me to think that I'm doing 69 on the big road. You are long gone because you peeled off to the left and burned a lot of gas to reach work earlier and maybe get laid. You're probably playing Frogger too. Think for a minute. Do you remember how Frogger ALWAYS ends? You really do not want to play Frogger on the big road, or anywhere else for that matter. This admonition is even more true if you're riding on two wheels.

While we're discussing motorcycles, we all know that the federalies are not likely to chase you at 160 MPH, or slower, and certainly not faster. However, they do have radios, and those signals travel a touch faster than you, and they have helicopters, which can track your speeding bohunkuss for a long time, probably for longer than you have gas to run on. If you need to go that fast, find a track somewhere. First, the track will not have debris on it, at least not much of it. Hit a piece of gravel the size of a walnut at 160, and watch you and the bike go into low earth orbit. Yeah, that'll be fun, up to but not including the undeniable sudden stop down the road.

The second reason is that I will not be on the track. This means that you won't be scuffing my bumper as you discover that the laws of Physics still apply to you.

We exit the big road at the west airport exit, turning left, away from the airport. We go to the airport often enough as it is. We do not need to add more trips. Turn left at the light, and stay in the left lane drive. Be careful. Your colleagues use the left turn lane for left turns from the other side. Why y'all try to turn left from the side of a 5-lane highway, I do not know. Find a counselor for that death wish. It's a recipe for a miserable death. It also gives me the opportunity to irritate you again because I will not yield to such a turn if I can help it.

You also need to watch out for the tractor-trailers that park in the middle, left-turn lane. They are allowed to do this by the Morrisville police because they are buying biscuits at Bojangles, and you know how the drivers need those biscuits. Now, why Bojangles could not build a better parking lot, I do not know, but they will when I'm in charge of this Realm.

That's it for getting to work. Now, we need to return home. Let's fast forward to driving home.

On the way home

If it's between 4 and 7, there is little need to try. Your ten mile drive might happen in the usual 12 minutes, but more likely it'll take between 30 and 90 minutes. You're better off doing something else until past 7, and then driving home. I suggest you work later, make the boss happier for the free labor, and then stop somewhere for dinner.

Wendy's in convenient, and it's possible to eat there without cardiac arrest, but you'll eat the triple with fries anyway. Tell the medics I said “Hi.” The mall has several eateries in the food court, and you'll be the only one there. Carmine's offers some of the best roast pork you'll find this side of my grandmother's kitchen, but you'll want to go easy on the Cuba Libres. Too many, and Cuba might go free, but you won't, and Bubba will be delighted. Where ever you stop, make it a place for a slow meal, and make sure you have a stoplight for reentering the road.

At some point, you're back on the road, and you want to be in the right lane as you approach the interstate. This means you don't have to deal with a lane change when you reach the on-ramp. Your challenge is that your driving friends are are using the right lane to pass cars in the left lane. Even though the entire world knows the right lane is right turn only, these peeps use the right lane to pass those who are going straight and maybe turning left. Your peeps who do this deserve some special loving from Bubba.

The on-ramp to the interstate at this point is characteristic of most on-ramps in this world. Not all, but most. By that, I mean it over a half mile long and, in this case, downhill. The idea is that you use the distance and the downhill to reach road speed, which is 65, before you merge. If the traffic is all backed up because of someone else making memories further down the road, maybe you merge at a slower speed. The thing is, you need to merge with a speed that matches the existing traffic.

Here's what I watch you do. You creep down the on-ramp like an innocent citizen headed to the gallows, and you merge with all the vigor of a bored ninth grader taking a spelling test. Get with the program, people! We're trying to drive here. Merge at freaking road speed. If you merge at 45 while everyone else is going 65, or more likely 80, pretty soon, we're all doing 25 or less. Do not frickin' do that. Do I need to send Bubba over for an introduction?

Twenty years ago, Raleigh had a public service campaign. It was called “Let one in.” The idea was for the road traffic to work in concert with the merge traffic. If you're driving on the road, when you reach the merge and there's traffic waiting, you let the next car in. The car behind you does the same thing. By doing this, there is no competition for merge access. Each merging driver know a chance is coming. It worked perfectly well, even when there was one beltline.

Now it's every car fighting for access. I ignore all this nonsense, pull up to the first spot that's half a car length or more, signal my intention, and the merge. If you do it, they will stop. Yes, it's almost rude, and I'm surely not waiting my turn, but if I wait my turn, I'll be waiting the better part of the night. The thing is, if you don't let me in, you'll rearend me, and that means you'll get to spend some special time with Bubba at the county lockup. For as much as I'm sure you miss Bubba, do you really want to be late for dinner?

There are many reasons for the slow traffic on the way home. I'd like to say it was knowing that you were leaving the place where you got laid, and that might be true, but my replicated observation is that you like to stop and show your respects for the place where you know an accident once occurred. You slow down, stop, maybe get out to take a picture, and then drive away slowly. People, there is no reason to do this. You're living in the past, and you're giving those behind you the opportunity to make similar memories, which only serves to perpetuate the moment. Get over it! Live in a future where your tires actually make a revolution now and again.

OK, at some point way further in the future than is necessary, you reach the merge from Harrison Boulevard. This one is totally a mess. From my experience, not one driving soul merging onto I-40 from Harrison should be permitted to ever sit behind the wheel. First, I see no evidence of being able to merge. Even when there's little or no traffic, and the road is clear, these special people merge at 35, look, wait, and them slowly speed up, only to play Frogger five miles down the road. I just do not get it, but I wish Bubba could get a little more.

Here's a word about the Harrison Avenue merge. You'll be siting in dead still traffic waiting to get to your dinner. You'll see that the merge lane to the right is perfectly clear. You'll pull into it to pass a few cars, which only serves to make the rest of us wait longer. Understand that you are now eligible for post-natal abortion. Bubba will pick you up directly before dinner. You have a very special moment coming.

The rest of the way is a straight-forward undoing of what you did to get to work. If there's an event at the RBC Center, you're doomed. If there's something big going on at the Fair Grounds, you're doomed. The truth of the matter is that you're doomed if you drive I-40 . If you can make home before 3:30, you might actually have a life. Otherwise, you have a crap-shoot, and can't count on it. I drive to RTP at 10 a.m., and suffer the slings and arrows of those who don't. At least I don't suffer the traffic.

Remember: All those boo-boos you met upon the way only serve to increase the chances of you spending a wonderful evening and night with Bubba. You'd rather spend the time at Starbucks.


The Crow said...

Dear god, this was so funny my aging bladder is weeping tears of laughter!

Please tell me you haven't given up blogging...I just found you!

Jim Penny said...


Haven't given up. Just been occupied excessively with work. Two are in the works somewhere on my desktop.