Friday, November 16, 2007

Florida Drivers

I’m happily making a bee line for the library to pick up my copy of El Americano when I narrowly escape with my life as a 1987 Dodge Caravan driven by a handicapped, septuagenarian chemo patient careens dangerously close. I’m reminded of a routine by Jerry Seinfeld in which he carries on about the perils of driving in Florida. Having moved to Sarasota from New York some years ago, I share in the sentiment.

In addition to Seinfeld’s “eventual left” which occurs when the driver either forgets the turn signal is on or turns it on 2.3 miles before the anticipated turn, leaving the driver behind guessing:

The Maybe, Maybe Not at the Stop Sign. Drivers barrel towards the intersection in such a manner that whether or not they are going to stop is thrown into question. The best way to handle this is to continue past and hope the former is the case. Otherwise, you wind up stopping at every intersection, risking getting hit by the distracted sixteen year old directly behind you, the one who just got his license and is zooming along at somewhere over the 45 mile speed limit.

The Full Stop Right Turn. You are driving along at the posted 45 miles an hour, when the driver in front of you turns on his signal and comes to an immediate full stop, an apparent necessity in order to turn into the shopping center on your right. You slam on the brakes and look in your rear view mirror, praying that the aforesaid sixteen year old doesn’t plow into you.

The Rolling Right Turn. This is a technique you master to avoid getting rear-ended by the distracted and the dazed and consists of slowing down 2.3 miles before the intersection where you want to turn. It results in exasperating the driver behind you causing him to switch lanes and leaving your car unscathed. It is, I have found to my detriment, hard on the ball joints.

The Kamikaze Left. Since there are really only four major east-west streets, they are essentially six lane mini highways. As you are zippping along, a 2004 White Buick at the next intersection five feet in front of you- on its way to the early bird special at the diner- simply must cut across your bow, causing you to brake, look back, etc… When you are trying to make a left, the lone pickup truck in the distance pours on the gas and approaches at the speed of light.

The Miami Lane Change. This is a new one to Sarasota where courtesy and patience used to be the watchwords. We don’t beep in Sarasota. Well, now with all the New Yorkers, that’s changing. I first came across this variant on the 95 in Miami. In Driver’s Ed, we were taught that you needed to see the car’s bumper in your rear view mirror before you switch lanes. This technique, however, consists of throwing your car in the path of the car next to you, forcing that driver to hit the brakes to make room for you to go on your merry way and decapitating the ant on the bumper in the process.

All of these maneuvers occur at relatively high speeds. In New York where the putative speed limit on the street is 35 and the highways 50, the limits represent wishful thinking: the actual pace is a snail’s crawl. It comes as a shock to drive 70 on the 75 and have grandma riding your tail. The cars, ignoring the rules of physics which require greater distances between cars at higher speeds in order to brake in time, bunch up in little high- speed caravans so that the effect is one of hurtling through space depending on the judgment or correctly firing synapses of the driver behind you.

The adventure of it all.

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