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Saturday, December 22, 2007

In the Fast Lane

When Mark rants about how bad New York drivers are, I tell him my theory - either they've never driven here before and are in shock, or they live in the city and don't often drive. Or, they're cab drivers. Mark does not agree with me. He thinks most drivers are stupid or lazy.

I drive once a year, if that. Driving in the city is overwhelming for me. There are too many things to worry about, too many visual distractions. Too many reckless, aggressive drivers that muscle you around and turn without signalling.

Many years ago I rented a car to drive to my parent's house in Boston, when they still lived there. My cat had just passed away and I'd driven home to bury her in the backyard, at the foot of the huge rock where we used to sit together and hang out.

She'd been my first cat, seeing me through high school and college. When I lived in New Jersey for a couple years after graduation, I brought her from the land of big open yards to a thickly settled suburb. Then she and I made the move to New York, and she became an indoor cat. Because of her, I'd never been completely alone in the city. I spent the drive reminiscing about our years together.

On the return drive to New York, I was still dazed. It was sunny out and the traffic was moving well. And then I got to the tollbooths outside the city.

In my delirium, I'd gotten myself into the equivalent to the E-Z pass lane. This was before E-Z passes, the nifty electronic cards that charge your account when scanned by a camera. In those days, there were special tokens you purchased ahead of time. You got into a special lane, deposited the token at the booth in lieu of cash, and moved on.

So here I was at the head of the line, confronted with a basket labelled 'TOKENS' in block letters. I panicked and the flake that I was, dug in my purse for subway tokens. This was the dark ages. People wore clothes and drove cars, but we also used funny coins to get through the subway turnstile.

I was throwing subway tokens into the chute and nothing was happening. The lever arm didn't move. So I started heaving whatever change I had into the basket to get the lever arm to budge. Handfuls of change went in.

The line of restless cars behind me was growing and then I really started to panic. I put the car into reverse, my crazed mind thinking that I might possibly get out of the lane (if everyone cooperated and excused my lack of brain cells). Then I stopped because a toll collector had appeared to see what the trouble was. I should have explained that it was a case of severe mental retardation.

Toll Collector Guy fished out some coins from the basket. 'Subway tokens?' he said, as if confronting an alien life form.

Taking pity on my lack of sound mind and the line of angry cars, Toll Collector Guy worked some magic. The lever arm rose up. I was free to go. Hurrah, hurrah, calamity avoided. Hurrah!!

So I stepped on the gas. The car was still in reverse. To my shock, I backed up, knocking into the motion sensor divider pole. The driver's side mirror crumpled and tore off the car. I braked, shifted, and looked up at Toll Collector Guy. He was standing, hands on hips, watching me. Cars were honking in the background. I could hear the thought bubbles of the drivers, and they were filled with exclamation points and four-letter words.

Good heavens.

I stepped on the gas again and tore ahead, leaving a cloud of honking in my wake. The side view mirror bounced against the car, dangling from its wiry guts.

I drove on, toward the mass of grey-blue buildings. I wanted to be anonymous again, not this moron in the spotlight, at the head of the line. I was speeding, feeling free and hopeful, the rattling of the mirror keeping time.

New York City. You could be anyone and do anything there, if only you put your mind to it. Anything was possible.

And just like that, I was swallowed up by the city, anonymous and home.

Photo by myself on the Brooklyn Bridge, headed out of Manhattan.


Ruvym said...

Nothing to be ashamed about. I can't tell you how many times I've gone into the EX Pass lane, both as a driver and as a passenger. Now they don't have sensors, so if you go in you just drive through. I think we've done that accidentally on two occasions and both times never got stopped or ticketed or anything. It might all be an illusion, how we think you really need to have an EZ Pass to get through.

My major concern inside the City is how it's probably the only place in the US where you're not supposed to make a right on red. So I'm crossing the street and people always do it, not noticing that people are walking and not paying attention because they're not expecting cars to come barreling through. It's pretty scary. I was in the West Village a few weeks ago and this ass with a shitty car nearly ran my friend and I over. And then you have those bastards trying to make left turns on green lights while on those double-traffic streets like 14th, 23rd, 34th...They try to race through before the oncoming traffic gets to them, all the while totally ignoring the pedestrians innocently crossing the street. The City is a pretty scary place.

kitty said...

Glad you weren't hurt, Ruvym. Yipes.

I've seen two cyclists and a pedestrian hit by cars. None seriously hurt, fortunately. However, a friend of a friend had her hip broken by a car that went out of control and jumped the curb.

I look both ways, esp on one-way streets. Those dreaded delivery guys are nuts.

Soon we'll have to walk around wearing full body armor, lol.