Monday, July 10, 2006

Beware! Minnesotans on road!

My good friend and one-time roommate Greg has gone on record with the opinion that Minnesotans are the worst drivers in the United States. This, coming from a resident of the accursed and booze-soaked state of Wisconsin, is harsh criticism indeed. For the longest time, I discounted it as the product of a fevered, partisan mind. Of course he wants to cast aspersions on my state’s motoring skills, I thought, he has a pathological Badger-need to cover up the shame that comes from hailing from such a godforsaken and sinister place. With this thought standing in their way, his arguments washed over me like water from a hose washes over a muddy, drool-soaked sheepdog.

But then a funny thing happened. Over the past couple of days, I’ve had a car of my own and, as a result, I’ve been driving much more frequently. And I’ve come to the conclusion that Greg is right. Minnesotans cannot drive. In fact, they are so bad at it I feel that I must be vulgar: they suck orangutan ass at driving. They are to driving what George W. Bush is to governing: the absolute, utter and final nadir.

(Here I can envision my father, a veteran of Minnesota’s treacherous and stupid-person-laden roads interjecting something about the unchecked rise of cell phone usage. He might have a point, but I maintain that your average driver from, say, Chicago can manage to negotiate heavy traffic, chain smoke, fiddle with the air conditioner and hold a very important conference call without once drifting out of his or her lane. The average driver from, say, Apple Valley cannot negotiate mild traffic and chew on a Pez at the same time without nearly bringing about great human tragedy.)

Now, I realize that—in my time on earth—I have committed a few modest driving infractions myself. No one is perfect. To me, the first rule of driving etiquette is that “everyone is always the asshole to someone else sometimes”. Yes, I’ve been bad once or twice. That’s not at issue here. What’s at issue is other people. I didn’t come here to self-flagellate, I came here to flagellate everyone else. That’s my right as a blog-owner. So there.

Anyway, here are five of the most egregious Minnesota driving moves:

One: The Pardon-Me-While-I-Ride-Your-Ass-Like-A-Bathhouse-Lover

There you are, tooling down the highway to visit your dear, sweet mother, minding your own business, singing along to the lilting voice of Lebanon’s sweetheart, Fairuz, when you look in the rearview mirror. Oh dear, you think, my view is almost completely obscured by that enormous sport utility vehicle that just happens to be about three centimeters from my rear bumper! Oh goodness!

But, since you’re a Minnesotan and you’re used to this sort of thing, you don’t panic. No, no: you understand what’s going on. The driver of the SUV isn’t angry at you; they aren’t looking to force you off the road or crush your car into paint-flecked powder. Chances are, they don’t notice you at all. You see, they’re so busy peering into the adjoining lane in search of the elusive 4000 foot carless space (the minimum size gap that they feel comfortable steering into, don’t you know?), that they can’t be bothered to pay attention to what’s happening directly in front of them. If you speed up just a bit, they’ll detach themselves from your trunk and eventually weave their way into another lane, where they’ll either slow down considerably and vanish from your life or, more commonly, they’ll slam on the gas and shoot off into the distance, where they’ll proceed to do pretty much the same thing to some other poor schmuck.

Two: The Pedestrians-Are-Such-An-Annoyance

This is a holdover from my days as a permanent pedestrian. What would happen is that I’d be crossing a semi-busy to busy street while someone on the cross street needed to make a right turn. Instead of patiently waiting for me to get by, what they do is creep up all the way to the crosswalk and keep rolling towards me, all the while wearing an absurd, exasperated grimace on their face. Apparently, to these sorts, I should go against all traffic laws and customs and let them go first. It’s as though I’m impertinent for not letting their sloppy, soccer-mom-in-an-Escalade ass get back to their tacky cul-de-sac twenty seconds sooner. They’re in a hurry, after all, and I’m just some loser who has to cross the street.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating this phenomenon one bit. It happens every week or so. Sometimes they even give me this gesture that I should, you know, hurry up or something. Fuck them, I say.

Three: The-I’m-Not-Too-Slow-Everyone-Else-Is-Too-Fast

Getting onto the freeway going thirty-five miles per hour. The less said about that, the better.

Four: The Why-Wait-When-I-Can-Cause-A-Fifty-Car-Pile-Up-Right-Now?

Imagine, if you will, an interstate highway in the midst of a moderately-large American city. Now envision an entrance onto that highway from a well-trafficked downtown street. That entrance snakes around for awhile and eventually becomes the far-right lane on the highway. Now, it only stays this way for about a mile and a half before it becomes the exit-only lane for yet another busy downtown thoroughfare. What is required, then, is that the people entering the freeway must move left one lane while the people who want to exit the freeway must merge into the same lane that this previous group is busy leaving. Sound complicated? Well, if it does, then stop on down at the DMV for your official State of Minnesota drivers licence, which entitles—nay, obliges---you to screw up this interchange every single time.

The part which escapes the average motorist around these parts is that they have almost two whole miles before they need to get over into the exit-only lane. There’s no need to jump the median to get in there before everyone else does. In fact, this only makes things more difficult. It would be far more civil and “nice” to let the entering traffic get over before you go barging into their lane. But no. Minnesotans, occasionally heralded nation-wide for their supreme “niceness”, are only interested in this quality insofar as it doesn’t inconvenience them. If they wait to move over into the exit lane, the reasoning seems to go, then they might miss it entirely. If that happens, they would then have no choice but to leave the freeway at the next exit, which is, terrifyingly enough, almost a half-mile further on.

Five: The Of-Course-I’m-Not-Going-To-Let-You-In-You-Bastard

This one is pretty self-explanatory. In terms of freeway behavior, it is a result of the Minnesotan driver’s unrelenting meekness. Put plainly, they want to get in a lane and stay there until they reach their bucolic backwoods “cabin”. Furthermore, they don’t want to be troubled by any annoying increases or decreases in speed. They have set the cruise control to seventy-one, they’ve got their toes tapping to Michael Bolton’s greatest hits, and they just cannot be disturbed. It doesn’t matter if you need to avoid the flaming mattress that’s inexplicably appeared in the middle of your lane. What do the flaming mattress and your petty problems have to do with their quest for the security and serenity of the lake country? Why do people like you insist on making everything such a hassle? Why can’t you be satisfied with your lane? And so it goes, until their exit comes or until they get hungry and sidle off the freeway in search of a shiny, shiny Denny’s.