"I always begin a journey on Sunday, because I shall have the prayers of the church to preserve me all the places that I go..."
- Jonathan Swift
Should all go as planned, by now my seasoned Buick and I will be barreling above the Mason-Dixon line together for the first time in five years. I could have flown to Maine for my high school reunion, reducing the travel time as I did on a similar visit two years ago. But this time I thought Id save the plane fare and drive the 1,200 miles each way instead.
I also had another thought: Can I still drive through one of the most congested areas in the country, and live to tell about it? How well I remember the last time - and the bumper sticker I saw on a local car after I returned home:
Save Georgia; teach a Yankee how to drive!
I controlled the urge to obliterate the offensive sticker with my poorly-driven car. But if there are others who wonder why the habits of Northern and Southern drivers are as different as their views on the Confederate flag, let me tell you about the last time I drove across New Yorks George Washington Bridge.
Heading south across the northwest corner of Manhat-tan caught me completely off guard. From the time The Bridge came into view until I reached the New Jersey side, it took 30 minutes to go three miles - which reminded me of the first time someone made sense to me out of the game of football: You have four plays to go 10 yards. The play-by-play went something like this:
Four lanes of asphalt filled to capacity with weekend drivers suddenly narrow to two. On-ramps keep feeding vehicles into the bumper-to-bumper parade. I stop, go, wait for a 6-inch space between vehicles on my right or left, ease into the ongoing lane and out of the one Im in, which is always the one being phased out.
I congratulate myself on making the merge alive, breathe deeply, and Oh, no! A disabled vehicle reduces the lanes again and I jockey for position and another first down. Im about to exhale when on-ramps appear on both sides again and four more lanes of traffic have to merge into two. It would be quicker, I moan, to swim across the Hudson. I became better acquainted with the truck driver on my right and the family on my left, than I am with my neighbors back home.
Funny what you notice when traffic slows to a crawl. Even with a steady stream of brake lights in front of me, I didnt see any in the rear windows, or more than two lights above the bumper on any car. Ah, I concluded, people dont drive new cars in this part of the country because they use their vehicles for transportation, not status. Between fender-benders and potholes, owners of expensive autos would suffer from perpetual paranoia.
With New York City finally behind me, and the New Jersey Turnpike ahead, I couldnt wait to blow some of the gunk out of my carburetor - I wasnt driving a late model car, either - and the tension from my brain.
Never knowing whether my exit would be to the left or the right, I stayed in the safe lane, which might have been the middle of three or five lanes or a constant altering between two and seven. Though I matched or exceeded the speed limit, my ears ached from the swish of cars passing on both sides. Thats when I remembered the New York policeman who noticed my Georgia tag and screamed: Move it! Up here its the cardinal rule of speed to keep up with the traffic!
Southerners, the reason you think we Yankees need driving lessons is that your traffic moves so slowly we lose all our reflexes. That not only makes us seem like poor drivers down here, but its next to suicide when we re-enter the fast lanes up north.
Remembering this story is making me kind of nervous. So, dear friends, even if it isnt Sunday (see above), would you mind preserving me in all the places I go with your prayers until I return?
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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