I was driving up Interstate 280 last week with a couple of friends, coming back from a somewhat refreshing camping trip. It was one of those brisk, after-the-rain sort of days when the breeze is cool and crisp and the sun is brighter than usual — the kind of weather that makes you almost glad to be living in the Bay Area. Of course, every time I get close to liking it up here in Northern California, something happens to make me really pissed off and hate it all over again. This time it was the absolutely dismal way Northern California people drive.
Before people start feebly defending the Bay Area’s driving habits vis- a-vis those of Los Angeles, let me just say the driving isn’t terribly enlightened down there either. Let’s face it, there isn’t a place in the world that has even a simple majority of good drivers. People suck at driving everywhere. It’s just that people up here really suck at it. It’s as if they practice being bad and their practice is making perfect.
So there we were, merrily rolling along I-280, when suddenly this primer-gray colored, early-model American gas-guzzling behemoth plastered to the hilt with tree-hugging bumper stickers proclaiming everything from opposition to off-shore oil drilling (hey, where do you think gasoline comes from, you idiot?) to support of the local Socialist Worker’s Collective swerves in from the far, far, far left lane, roars within a hair-width of our front bumper, enveloping us in sooty, prehistoric exhaust before barreling down an exit somewhere before Foster City. We would have been scared to death, but it happened so fast, there wasn’t any time to be scared, let alone to death. By the time the “to death” part of being scared sank in, the Car from Hell had already disappeared among the sparkling low-rises of Foster City. The only reaction in our car for a few seconds was confused silence. Then someone in the back seat spoke: “Hey, Allen, it must’ve been hell learning to drive in L.A., huh?”
It took me a while to understand what that meant. It took me until Emeryville to figure out that the person, a Bay Area native, was implying that if the person piloting that hurtling piece of iron death lived in the Bay Area (the Mecca of exemplary driving), heaven knows how bad it must be… in Los Angeles! Ye gods! Four years ago, I might have been able to forgive the statement, give it the benefit of a doubt, maybe even laugh it off as some lame dig against L.A. But now, after four years of dodging and avoiding bumbling Bay Area bumper car jockeys, there isn’t an iota of doubt left in my mind — these people are the worst drivers that have ever existed. You’d have to go back to the first time someone decided to jump on a horse rather than walk to find a worse driver. The doltish driving manifests itself in an infinite variety of ways, but three particular recurring No-Cal driving flaws really highlight the general lack of vehicular finesse in Northern California:
- Random Braking — It never fails. I’m driving along the freeway and the person in front of me hits the brakes for no reason whatsoever. No suddenly appearing traffic, no animals or fowl crossing the road, no hot- damn! – Claudia-Schiffer’s – in – the – next – lane – slow – down – so – I – can – get – a – picture. No nothing. They just felt like it. At first I thought it was a form of expression, you know, to keep other drivers updated on their state of mind: “This song sucks — I think I’ll slam on the brakes”, or “The air conditioning is too cold. I need to stop right now.” But after much observation, I’ve come to the realization that Bay Area folk just like being stationary. They like it so much in fact that they would like to be at a standstill whenever they possibly can. And being the generous souls they are, they like to rub this love of stopping all over everyone, especially you.
- Random Changes in Direction — This event is somewhat related to the random braking habit, except that random changes in direction stem not from a generous spirit, but a total absence of brain power. I encounter this type of driver most often in intersections, as they suddenly cut in front of me to make a U-turn. Also, abrupt lane changes into my car have helped me become more acquainted with this phenomenon. From whence, you ask, doth the bone-headedness spring forth? Well, apparently, when Northern Californians get into their car to go somewhere, after about a quarter mile they forget where they’re supposed to be going. The concept of “destination” no longer has any meaning for them. They then begin to wander around on the roads, trying to remember where they’re going. Sometimes they’ll remember bits and pieces, like “go espresso… need be hoity-toity”, and then they’ll arbitrarily choose a new direction to go in, hoping to get nearer to a cafGAA. Very rarely do they ever make it to their intended destination; most of the time, they just wander back home to sip a cup of Celestial Seasonings before calling it a day.
- Ignorance of the “Fast Lane” Concept — Although Bay Area types are rather random in their choice of direction, they are surprisingly stubborn and anal about their speed. Specifically, their slow speed. They all drive slow, and they all drive in packs, slowing down the entire freeway, street, road, or parking lot until everyone is going the same speed — zero miles an hour (see above, “love of stopping”). I guess it’s sort of a socialist-communist sort of thing, where the no-speed is evenly distributed to the masses. At first I thought they were doing it to piss me off, but I’ve found that they do it even when I’m not driving. Northern Californians just don’t realize that the automobile is a time-saving device. The faster one drives, the quicker one gets to one’s destination. This point eludes your average Bay Area driver. It would be fine if they drove slowly in the right lane, but no, even the idea of “right lane = slow, left lane = fast” is unknown here. People here seem to think lane selection is an art thing, an aesthetic concern.
Maybe they think that driving slowly in the left lane enhances their karma or helps to prevent bad hair or something. Screw that; I’d much rather get to where I’m going sooner.