On one of my regular sojurns to New York we were taken on a road trip by Mrs G’s father, not the kind that involves an RV or a brush with the police, but a very nice road trip up Long Island to see some pretty towns, eat at a roadside diner and taste some wines.
Also to stop and look at trees, because I’m British and therefore the logic was that I should like trees. I had never shown any hint of arborphila or waxed lyrical about a magnificent birch but we were still going to stop in a layby so I could get my wood fix.
At one point, about 80 miles from Manhattan, it made me realise that living on such a small island this is almost all the way to London. Which is a place I would only consider getting to by train. Also to just go out and drive for a day is almost unheard of in England, a major tourist destination is never more than 20 miles away. But America is a big place and as such is allowed space to breath and that space is connected by the strangeness that are American roads.
It would be easy at this point to jump straight to the old “the left is the right side of the road argument” and make all the jokes about how us Brits drive properly. As I make the argument that the rest of the world spells Aluminium correctly and that the few countries that don’t are in the wrong I can’t really put a good case together when most drivers will get in the left hand side door.
I still don’t get the cars that those doors are connected to. The amounts of SUV’s and pickup trucks on the road is absurd, especially in New York. Like the Chelsea Tractors is there a need to have a 4×4 or monster wheels to handle the speed bumps and potholes that may appear? What are the pickup trucks used for? The vast majority I see have absolutely nothing in the back, and I kind of think that the largest load they see is the weekly shop that would fit in the back of a normal family car.
As parking is at a premium in the city it seems that the collective will of the people has decided that the only way to solve this is by having the biggest and longest cars possible. In Europe the hatchback is king, better fuel efficiency, easier to park and a lot cheaper. If I had my old Fiat 500 here I would have the choice of parking spots, although I expect I would be crushed and rammed off the roads by all the SUV drivers who would consider a little Italian car no more than another piece of roadkill.
I’m also confused by the habit of naming American roads. Not the 1st to 99th street system, that makes perfect sense in a grid based system, but the renaming of the highways seemingly at random. When I drive up the M6 it stays the M6, I know it’s the M6 and that’s what everyone else will call it. While driving up to see Mrs G’s sister in up state New York the expressway we were on changed names three times. The sat nav was having a fit.
It’s understandable when they are called things like the Cross County expressway, or the Long Island Expressway. They simply describe the location or direction of the road, but at certain points they become named after obscure public servants and then all hell lets loose. Are we on the I123 or the John P. Michaels Memorial Expressway?
Should I call it that or do the locals know it as the “Up Suffolk Expressway” or the U.S.E.?
Not that I would want to drive on them, the road system seems to have been designed specifically by the auto-repair industry with accidents in mind. The merge on and off the roads are ridiculously short and combine both the on an off ramps in one go. To add to the crazy it is in the wrong order and results in cars unable to get on/off the road while others are trying to get off/on the expressway. Any road system that bares similarity to the Coventry Ring Road should not be used…especially when you have mini tanks driving at 70 mph with little regard for other users.
I am used to the politeness of British drivers, but from what I have seen on American roads this kind of behaviour is never seen. Here it is survival of the most aggressive, where cars refuse to let each other in front of them even if it will help them make a lane change quicker. I have seen drivers side by side who want to be in the other lane but neither will yield and quite happy to miss their turnings. This is Vehicular Darwinism, where lane selection is fought for and leads to adaptation through sat nav redirection.
I make many promises to Ma G, and most of them are with fingers crossed behind my back, but when she said “Promise me you won’t drive on American roads, they’re crazy” this is one time I may keep my promise.