Some people are natural automobile operators. In swift arcs of the ankle, these naturals slow to barely noticeable stops without promoting even the slightest hint of jolting motion. With smooth panoramic vision, these people are constantly and acutely aware of even the smallest of insignificancies — such as squirrels, stop signs or pedestrians. With one-handed ease, they turn the car without facing oncoming traffic at the turn's completion. They drive fast. They drive fearlessly. I move aside for them as though they are all emergency vehicles.
I have respected these naturals. I have revered them. And for a long time, it seemed beyond my capacity to ever become one of them. I myself have, admittedly, been referred to as a rather unskilled driver. That I started trying for my license at age 16 and achieved it immediately preceding my 20th birthday should implicate the abnormally high-difficulty level I associated even with what was intended to be nothing more than an overly simplified set of simulated road scenarios.
The day I was granted my license was a day when one sympathetic elderly man in White Plains, N.Y., risked the lives of many innocent citizens for the sole purpose of ending our bimonthly meetings. (If the federal government had arbitrarily decided to place a tracking system upon my driving throughout the duration of my first year on the road, I am positive that the poor man would currently reside in a New York prison under accusations of terrorism.)
No — I wasn't a speed demon. I was never a risk-taker nor a maniac. Never was I referred to by friends, families or road-raging peers as an aggressive or impulsive driver. On the contrary, finding passengers for my car was difficult on the repeatedly stated grounds that if I drove us, "We will never get there." Middle fingers were stretched out of passing windows toward me on a regular basis, paired with expressions such as, "Pick a lane, [insert mistaken reference to my name here]!" or, "Are you even moving, [repeat previous insertion]?!"
I assumed, true to character, that everyone but me was wrong and loathed them all for conspiring against me (wondering simultaneously how it was possible that my friends had somehow managed to confer with a number of mentionably frightening truck drivers found traveling along the New Jersey turnpike). At the end of senior year, my boyfriend looked me in the eyes, held my hands and explained why he was no longer going to accompany me when I was behind the wheel. "Baby, don't get mad," he said, "but you drive like a grandma. A terminally ill, handicapped, almost-completely-blind grandma." (Sidenote: Trust me, kids - don't try that at home).
The summer before entering college, I began to feel down. I sat in the passenger's side of my best friend's ride, because that way no one was trying to holler at me. I slumped down in my boyfriend's car, arms crossed, eyes out the window. I walked to work. I felt like a failure, an outsider to the drivers' club, a road reject, an outcast.
"Why is it so important to everyone to drive so fast?" I asked myself. "Why must decisions to turn be viewed by others as so final, and why does this country claim to treat everyone as equals but give precedence to certain citizens (don't ask me who) at an intersection?"
These questions made me confused and sad. I doubted my country and humanity as a whole.
Then one day, everything unexpectedly changed. This day was bright and sunny, and on this day I arrived in Richmond, Va. (in my mom's passenger seat). An entire city of slow, hesitant, indecisive drivers. A whole community of grandmas. My comfort zone — I had found my place. My sixth month of Richmond residency found me setting off on I-95, momless and toting Little Beep Beep (my car/close personal friend). I was ready. I was enthusiastic. I was confident. I was ready to maneuver roads that functioned according to the terms I endorsed.
But something phenomenal began to happen. I began to transform. Far from the aggressive traffic congestion and frantically weaving crazies of the New York roadways, and in the depths of senior citizen communities, I slowly became what I had never been, nor ever thought I could be: a New York driver.
The transformation was slow but definite. Traffic lights became a nuisance, and the yellow light began to signify an increase in speed. I began to feel a deep sense of anger pertaining to my former companionate peers for slowing down at all traffic lights without observing its actual color.
Stop signs became optional and "stoptional" became my personal motto (clever, I know, but I didn't make it up). I began to feel a deep sense of disgust upon viewing a car not only stopped at one of these stoptionals, but stopped for more than one second (a non-rolling stop, if you will). I began to complain about speed limits. ("25 mph? What is my car, Fisher Price?") Then I began to break them. ("Whatever, I don't think elementary schools are in session anyway.")
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Before I knew it, the slow-moving cars with which I had once been in complete synchronization became obstacles to dodge. I hated Virginia drivers, because for the first time in my life, I considered my own driving skills to be somewhat elite. I became discontented with Virginia driving life.
"Don't these people have places to go?" I asked myself. "Do Virginia car dealerships install flesh-burning mechanisms onto the acceleration pedal? Isn't that illegal?"
Once again, these questions made me confused and sad. Again, I doubted both my country and humanity as a whole.
But this time, my questions were answered. It was a blindingly bright day in August as I reached 85 mph along the Midlothian Turnpike (a 65 mph zone). So blinding I kept my eyes on the road instead of my speedometer, so blinding I did not see lights appear on top of the otherwise unsuspicious red Honda that drove behind me for about two miles. I received a reckless driving ticket that day, and then I understood.
These people are not driving slowly because they are not in a rush. They are doing so to avoid jail time. These people would much prefer to roll than stop completely, but they'd rather not become homeless in an effort to pay off either a lawyer, a ticket or increased monthly insurance costs.
Virginia drivers were not born as such - they became so to adapt to a rather demanding environment, a road ruled by Virginia law. These are not grandmas aged beyond the ability to conform to modern societal codes, but paranoid citizens putting their own criminal records ahead of a 5-minute-early arrival to the neighborhood Walmart.
From my cross-state experiences on the road, there are two lessons to be learned: 1) Don't hate on Virginia drivers. Either you drive like they do or you find someone to pay your bail. 2) The natural inclination of the human race is to be a risky speed demon, and where laws do not prohibit this behavior,
it will indeed be exhibited.
Although now, as before, I drive at least 10 miles under the speed limit at all times, slow to a stop for every traffic light at least one mile before the white line and indicate I'm turning once I know I'm definitely in the state of America within which I intend to turn, I know my full potential exceeds this. I know I can speed. I can be aggressive. I can dodge obstacles in my way. I know I can substitute aggression for hesitation when the appropriate situation arises. I know that behind a timid exterior I'm a road devil, and that this inner devil is a secret weapon I hold close to my heart.
I would never have come across this secret weapon if I had never been surrounded by its exact opposite in others. I want to thank Virginia drivers for evoking this natural inclination in myself, even if it led to quite a hysterical scene on the side of the Midlothian Turnpike and my personally financed employment of a rather pricey lawyer. It was all worth it.
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