Posted Speeds and Waiting for the Apocalypse: Another Open Letter to Austin Drivers
Man, did I get some flak for that first Open Letter to Austin Drivers. One guy called me a Yankee and a carpetbagger! That is so cool! I wish I could channel some of his creative vocabulary into my own writing. I can only imagine that guy has a red handlebar mustache and beard and a two-gun holster and a huge cowboy hat and … oh wait, I’m picturing this guy.
Anyway, I understand, Austin. Some of you can’t stand the idea of an “outsider” criticizing the way people drive here in Austin. This is a city made up of outsiders though, and some of those outsiders are contributing to the insanely bad driving habits. Crappy driving is part of the collective personality of the average Austinite. Over time, I’m sure I’ll also grow a cell phone out of my ear and forget what “yield” means and panic at the sight of a four-way stop. Until then, I have more gripes. Here they are.
Every single time I’m driving North Lamar, around Koening, there’s someone in front of me driving 20 miles per hour. I always foolishly think the person is having car trouble or just can’t accelerate quickly. And every single time, I am wrong. No, it’s just someone who wants to drive 20 miles per hour on a section of road where the speed limit is 45 miles per hour. Why would anyone do this? Is it because they want to get rear-ended? Is it because they’re dreading wherever they’re going and want to prolong the drive as long as possible? Is it because their jalopy maxes out at 25? Don’t even bother driving at that point, just get a bike. It’s cheaper and it’ll keep your ass smaller.
Speaking of bikes, lately I’ve been stuck behind a rash of drivers who seem to freak out at the sight of a cyclist. Even when the cyclist has a bike lane, these people will refuse to pass them, instead, driving at pace, slightly behind the cyclist, like a dark van filled with puppies and candy, completely freaking them out. You know what that feels like when you’re on a bike? You get the displaced hot air blowing on you and the feeling that someone is surely going to run you over at any minute. There’s no need to panic at the sight of a cyclist, it’s just another moving vehicle with which you have to share the road. Notice them, watch out for them, and pass them.
Highway driving here is its own beast. Its own frustrating, foaming-at-the-mouth, trying-to-kill you beast. People don’t seem to know how highway driving works. For example, the speed limit on I-35 going through the city is 65. So why doesn’t anyone actually just drive 65? I constantly see one of two things. I get on the highway and there’s some 3 ton pickup driven by a 90-pound woman on a cell phone trying to fly up my ass at 80 miles per hour, or I have to immediately slam on my brakes because there’s a dude laying horizontally in his driver’s seat, going 35 miles per hour. Haven’t I seen him somewhere else? And of course, he’s in the left lane. If you’re driving 35 miles per hour, you shouldn’t even be on the highway, let alone in the left lane.
Another highway concept that nobody seems to understand is merging. The on ramps around here are incredible – they give you 20 yards of concrete and then spit you into the highway, where people either speed up at the sight of you because they’ll be damned if someone’s gettin’ in front of them, or they slam on their breaks because OHMYGOD, there’s another car! I have a better alternative. Instead of either getting aggressive or panicking, two characteristics that seem to be part of the DNA of every Austin driver, simply adjust your driving to let the new car merge into the lane. Slow down a little to let him in, or speed up to let him behind you. Do it eaaaaasssy, Austin. No need to freak out. And to those cars trying to get on the highway, have some balls for crying out loud. If there’s room to go, go! You’re not at a red light. You don’t need to wait until there are no cars on the highway before you can get on it. Hell, if you’re waiting for no cars on 35, you’re waiting for the apocalypse.
The main problem is that people here seem to do everything in their cars other than concentrate on simply driving. Austin drivers, if you were looking at where you were going and the other cars around you and the speed limit signs and the stop signs and the red lights, rather than talking on your phone, texting, putting on makeup, checking Facebook, eating or turning around to talk to the guy in the back seat (or pass him the joint), it’d do us all a big favor. I know you’re capable of good driving; you just have to put it into practice!
And I’m still working on dealing with it. I put a swear jar on my dashboard, but every time I go around a corner, I get $40 worth of change thrown in my face.