Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Leslie be damned, here are my top 10 tips for driving around Austin:
Number 10: Red lights are just a suggestion. When I first moved to Austin in August of 1992, the police had just taken out full-page ads in the local newspaper, proclaiming, "We're going to start enforcing red lights, starting October 1st. And THIS TIME we mean it!" Sounds really menacing and serious, I know, but read the ads carefully. For starters, the words "THIS TIME" indicated that they had tried this before and failed. Once more with feeling? Third time's a charm? What are the odds that it'll work this time? Ha! Then there was the entire date bit. "Starting October 1st..." It was August. Yippie! The police even said I could run all of the red lights I encounter for the month of September. How serious could they be about enforcing them the rest of the time? In case you think technology helps here, please do be advised that Austin had to remove a lot of red light cameras because they were causing too many accidents. (Red lights are just a suggestion. Really, they are. At least here in River City.)
Number 9: Texting while driving is not permitted so HONK YOUR HORN! A few years ago, they banned texting while driving everywhere around Austin. Almost everywhere. Everywhere except at red lights. So, more often then not, when you come up to a red light, you will see the driver in front of you start texting. This is all well and good-we don't like people texting while actually driving, mind you. The trouble happens when the light turns green. The driver, you see, is still busy texting. Telling all her friends about the *cutest* pair of shoes she just got on sale at Macy's or asking his buddies, "Where U At?" in proper text voice and all. The trouble here is that, well, the TRAFFIC LIGHT CHANGED FIVE MINUTES AGO. So, what to do, what to do? If you are sitting at a red light, the light turns green, and the car out in front has yet to master the old standby "red light stop green light GO" I recommend that you HONK YOUR HORN. Do this loudly, as loud as you can. Facebook, you see, is just *so* captivating when you're stuck at a stoplight.
Number 8: Buckle up before you go through the drive thru liquor store. In Texas, all passengers are required, by law, to be buckled up when the car is moving. ALL PASSENGERS. Yes, even your drunk friends, passed out in the back seat. Buckle then up before they pass out, for best results and all. Now, the good thing is that, while we are all required to have seat belts on all of the time, we still have that old Texas standby: the drive thru liquor store. If you happen to find yourself in one of those, be patient, as the drunk guy in front of you might be so busy doing the tango with his seat belt he can't count his change fast enough (or something like that.) The motto of Texas might as well be, "here, have another beer!" But, hey, we are all buckled up, and that's important, right?
Number 7: Pickup truck do not have built-in umbrella stands. Driving around Austin, it's almost impossible to avoid spotting a pick-up truck. Many of the locals, in fact, collect them. Many of these same locals also tend to drive on the slower side, although sometimes doing so in the fast lane. That's OK though, because they have these handy racks in the back of their trucks, racks designed to hold loooong sticks. If you're visiting from out of town, you might now be advised that, these slow-going pick-up driving locals do not have built-in umbrella stands in the back of their pick-up trucks. No, these racks actually hold really big guns, which explains why the rest of us let them drive slowly in the fast lane. Be advised, do not honk your horn at these people. They might want to suddenly take up a new target at target practice and, should you happen to honk, you just might find that this new target is, oh, I don't know, say your left headlight (and leave it at that, ok?) Oh, and should you happen to catch a pick-up truck driver, one with a loooong umbrella stand in the back of the truck texting? Might want to lay off that horn then too. Not a good idea, really, not all that good of an idea to honk at them.
Number 6: Dead 'Dillos Rule, OK? It's probably no secret that we have armadillos in Texas. Armadillos are small animals with an armored shell. Think "furry woodland creature" here, only without the "furry" (come to think of it, without the "woodland" too.) They look like they are from outer space. But, that's OK, because you will never see one. Almost never see one. You might see a dead one while out driving. Armadillos are almost always spotted out in the wild dead, run over by the slow moving pick-up trucks, the fast moving cars with California plates, and everybody in-between. Yes, here in Texas, we love our 'Dillos, OK? 'Dillos rule! Just don't expect to actually see one alive and all, least ye be highly disappointed.
Number 5: When it Rains, It's Crazy. Should it happen to rain in Austin, while you are visiting, you will suddenly be able to spot the locals. All the people in Texas, you see, have moved here from other parts. The drivers from California? When it rains, they slow down. The drivers from Seattle? Why, they love the rain. Makes them feel right at home. The slow moving pick-up trucks with old style Texas plates? Yeah, they will be out and about squashed in-between the slow moving (but not as slow as the native Texans-the ones with the gun racks!) Californians and the uber-speedy Seattle drivers. In case you think this makes for a crazy commute, why, you'd be correct about that. The fast lane will become filled with frustrated Seattle drivers while the slow lane will get filled with Californians looking to escape back to the shore, each trying to dodge the gun-toting pick-up trucks who now become very happy (read: drunk) because they no longer have to pay to water their lawns (this month.) Buyer beware!
Number 3: We're a friendly lot. We have these great multi-lane roads all around Austin, really we do. There are a lot of highways with three lanes going in each direction, and two more service roads to boot. You would think that, with all of these lanes all around us, we've have enough room for folks to driver slower than traffic, faster than traffic, and right in the middle. You would think that, but you'd be wrong. The reality of the situation is that you often come up upon a line of traffic, driving under the speed limit mind you, driving three abreast. That's tree across, blocking our wonderful mult-lane road, blocking it so that *you* cannot get past. Frustrating, isn't it? Just think of it as the locals being friendly and it might just help. When that fails, there is always something we do called "speeding on the access road" but I shall save that for another number (see below.)
Number 2: We love our crazy U-turn lanes. Yes, we know you hate them or, at best, really don't understand them, but we love them, really we do. They are U-turn lanes. What's a U-turn lane, you might ask? Well, they are lanes in which you turn, and you turn, and then you don't. Allow me to explain. Say you get off an exit on one of our wonderful multi-lane highways (see #3) and you want to now turn around, to go north instead of south (for example) basically, make a left. Instead of going up to the light, waiting for the light to change, going under the overpass, waiting (again!) for the light to change, so that you can make a left turn (and reverse direction) you can actually go through the U-turn lane. It cuts off two stoplights, really it does. Of course, if you are from out of town and lost, it will completely confuse and befuddle you, but we love them, because they cut off two stoplights and they really confuse the wits out of people just like you. Please do try to keep in mind that, the more you say you hate them, the more that actually makes us love them. (In case you're wondering, yes, we really do laugh at you as you get stuck in that infinite loop, driving around in circles, trying to figure out how to get out. Why, here you go! Have another U-turn on me, baby! Enjoy! *Snicker snicker* Just remember, somewhere a pick-up driving local with a big gun is laughing and, better to be stuck in a U-turn lane than behind him honking your horn.)
Number 1: Speeding on the access roads is allowed. In most places, the access or service road is used when you get off the highway and are looking to either make a turn (to find your location) or when you are close to your destination and want to just pull off. Not here in Texas. Nope. Doesn't work that way. Should you happen to see a wreck, delay, cop, ticket, or any kind of a slow-down in front of you, you're more than likely to see lots of locals gunning it for the exit. They will then attempt to speed past the obstacle on the service road because nobody likes to slow down, not even for *that.* So, the race will begin. Sometimes, we even do this as traffic is running three lanes abreast and it is slow (see #3 above.) The services lanes, you see, often don't have traffic lights on them and, sometimes even travel less distance than the main road (the curves are cut. Doesn't make sense, so you might have to look at a map more closely, but it's really true. The service lanes can actually be shorter, here in Texas, than the main road. Sometimes. If, say, you're lucky.) Because of this, you will often find cars popping off and back on the same road and the access roads tend to travel faster (sometimes) than the highways. It's just a fact of life, get used to it.
Ah, driving in Texas, isn't it grand?
Until next time...