Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Rhody Rants (1 of n)

I live in a state which has a great deal of natural beauty. Particularly along the coast. The weather is rather reasonable for New England. For instance, I have lived here for almost 15 years and I've never seen the temperature go below zero. (That's Fahrenheit, I don't do Celsius or metric, not if I can avoid it. But I'll explain all that someday in a different rant. Today it's all about "Little Rhody.")

There is one thing about Rhode Island that really annoys the hell out of me - the way some Rhode Islanders drive. Mind you, I have driven in many different places and/or observed the behavior of drivers in many states and in many countries.

I have driven from New England to Colorado, from Colorado to Texas (and back), from Colorado to Mississippi.

From Mississippi (in the dead of night) to Nebraska, from Nebraska to Louisiana (and back) and from Louisiana to Florida, round trip, twice. One time originating in Alexandria then on to Fort Walton Beach, another time originating in Pensacola then on to New Orleans (which is how it is spelled, not how it is pronounced).

Eventually we completed the grand tour of the "east of the Rockies" United States by driving from Nebraska to New England. In December. With three "youngish" kids. That trip we broke into three days. (If you ever need to stop and sleep when in Indiana, near South Bend, keep driving until you are well past South Bend. Most of the motels in that neck of the woods seemed designed for drunken football fans. Let me tell you, those folks will tolerate living conditions that some nomadic tribesmen would find wanting.)

I have also driven in Japan, Okinawa to be specific back when Okinawa was the only part of Japan where you drove on the right side of the road, as opposed to the left - which was the side the rest of Japan drove on. Yes, while I was there, they switched. Drove to the barracks one day on the right side of the road, the next day left the barracks driving on the left. After a couple of days of that, I sold the car.

I drove a lot of miles in Europe. Primarily in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

I have observed drivers in the following countries: Canada, Korea, France, the Philippines and Italy. I have also observed drivers from Iran.

Back in the days of the Shah, when they were our allies, we trained many people in the Iranian military. I got to see a lot of Iranian Air Force types while stationed in Denver. Typically they would pool their money and buy a car. One car for like eight guys. All of whom would ride in that car at the same time. None of whom were really very good at operating that car.

And the car itself? I think they would fly old cars from the '50s and '60s up from Cuba. In other words, CRBaPCC, that's right, Cars Rejected By a Poor Communist Country. Cars which even other people (with very few sources of spare parts) had given up on. Cars which these Iranian sergeants would somehow get running again. Not reliably mind you, not ending a journey with all the parts with which they had started the journey still attached to the vehicle, but they managed. Somehow they managed.

Now what does all this about Iranian sergeants have to do with Rhode Island drivers? Those Iranian sergeants were the only guys on the planet I have seen, who drove worse than Rhode Islanders. Not much, but there was a discernible difference.

I know what some of you are thinking, "Really, Rhode Islanders are worse drivers than Italians and Belgians?" Yup, a lot worse. Even worse than the Philippines. But to be fair, in the Philippines I didn't witness any highway traffic, it was all in the city. And you really can't compare a bunch of mopeds, motorized tricycles and Jeepneys with the sort of traffic you see in the U.S. The Filipinos, while not exactly accomplished drivers, weren't cutting each other off, nor running each over, all that much. Then again, I was only there for 17 days.

This is a Jeepney.
Note that this photo was not taken in Rhode Island!

Before I go into any great detail about driving in Rhode Island, who do I think are the best drivers on the planet? The Germans, hands down.

Of course, to get one's license in Germany is not easy. You need classroom time and time behind the wheel. German driving schools are not easy. There's a reason there are "no speed limits" on the Autobahn.

Well, technically speaking there are. In some places. Just before I left Deutschland there was a move afoot to institute speed limits everywhere. That was defeated in the Bundestag. Germans feel a God-given right to "go fast." On the other hand Germans like rules. So a compromise was in ordnung. You could still drive as fast as you like on most parts of the Autobahn. However, if you got in an accident AND were traveling faster than 130 kilometers per hour (roughly 80 mph), your insurance company was not liable for any damages or injuries. Germans started driving a little slower after that. (I don't know if that rule is still in place. Whereas Germans are really enamored of rules, they also take great pleasure in breaking the rules they don't like.)

So what annoys me about Rhode Island drivers?

First of all, many of them are not exactly competent. Merging onto a four-lane highway is one of the things they are really bad at. Their method seems to be, "If I don't look in my mirror and just keep driving, the guy already on the highway will either move over, or slow down."

In other words, there is no concept of "yield" in a Rhode Islander's vocabulary.

One might think they did understand the concept of yield when stop signs are involved. Many of them will actually slow down at a stop sign and just keep going if there is no traffic within 50 feet of them. Regardless of the speed of the oncoming traffic. Once again, in Little Rhody it seems that drivers with the right of way are responsible for yielding to the drivers who do not have the right of way.

But truly that doesn't hold in every situation. I have been stopped, at a stop sign, waiting for traffic to clear before I proceed. Only to have some yahoo, with the right of way, slow down or even stop to wave me across the road.


I have also seen this behavior on four-lane streets (two in each direction) in town. People in the left lane proceeding south (let's say) will stop and wave another driver (who is waiting to make a left turn, across traffic) across the road, into traffic still moving in the right lane.

If you refuse to drive into oncoming traffic, the budding (and completely untrained) traffic cop will begin to angrily wave you across the road. As if you are holding him up somehow.

Then there is what I like to call "the Rhode Island Cut." This also takes place on four-lane streets. This can be seen when a Rhode Islander wants to get on the road from a side street but needs to cut across two lanes to get going in the desired direction.

The "Cutter" will gradually ease his/her vehicle into the oncoming lanes until they have first blocked the inside lane and then the outside lane. Traffic in the direction he/she wants to go is still moving along. Until the "Cutter" sees that 15 foot gap in traffic. Then they pull out, causing the frantic application of brakes in one direction and the sounding of horns in both.

Doesn't seem to faze them a bit.

Parking lots are very confusing to Rhode Islanders. There are all those lines, so many choices. So they will park straddling two spaces. Or, when it gets too confusing, they will park directly in front of the business they wish to patronize in the area marked "Fire Lane." Which to many Rhode Islanders means "Go ahead and park here, but turn on your emergency flashers". (I have checked and "Fire Lane" is not Portuguese for "Park Here" - that would be "Estacionar Aqui.")

While there are clearly marked travel lanes in all parking lots in Rhode Island, many Rhode Island drivers don't understand what those are for. If there are no cars parked, why not just cut across all those confusing lines to get out onto the street? Where you could then do a "Rhode Island Cut", drive down a few blocks and then stop to let someone else make a turn across traffic.

Then stop at Dunkin' Donuts, park in the Fire Lane, turn on the flashers, then run in and grab a coffee. Then merrily head home. Oh, make sure you stay in the left lane on the interstate and drive five miles under the limit. The view is apparently much better from there.

(Don't get me started on turn signals. Rhode Islanders don't use them. Ever.)

Now bear in mind, not all Rhode Islanders drive as I have described. Probably not even most of them, just the ones I see, everyday. Especially if I need to be someplace in a hurry.

Question: Why do Rhode Islanders wait an extra ten seconds when the light turns green before proceeding?

Answer: Rhode Islanders won't stop at a red light unless it's been red for at least ten seconds.

At least that's my theory. And yes, a yellow light means "accelerate, the light's about to turn red!"

But don't get me wrong. I love this place. Goofy drivers and all. Truth be told, most of them are okay behind the wheel. The Missus Herself claims that I have "impossibly high standards" and that I'm probably an a-hole. I won't dispute that.

I have my moments.


  1. I hear ya, but I suspect there is only one perfect driver in the whole world and that driver varies with each person in the whole world. I could do a Texas version of this (well written) rant, but it would be the same tune just in a different key.

    1. As to who is the best individual driver in the world, it really is a question of perspective.

      I was once passed on the shoulder near Junction City by a Texan in a rather large hurry. The police officer pursuing him passed me on the left. That was an "interesting" day.

  2. As your neighbor to the near north, I must commend you on doing a great job of describing Massachusetts drivers (or, as we like to call them, Massholes.)

    I'm all for instituting some of that German toughness on driving tests, but it will never happen in either of our states because the cashflow from issuing licenses, taxing the vehicles, toll roads and ticketing too enticing for the politicians to ever consider giving it up. You can pretty much get a license around these parts when you open a Crackerjack box.

    1. The major difference I've observed between RI and MA drivers is that the former violate the traffic laws with an air of blissful ignorance, whereas the latter violate the traffic laws with an air of arrogance. Rhode Islands "have no idea", Massholes know the law, they just don't care.

      You're absolutely right about the flow of cash to the respective state capitals being the determining factor in "how to get a license."

  3. I was going to say I always thought Mass. drivers far and away the worst in this country, but I have limited experience with Rhode Island. I might just lump anyone north of New Jersey into the same stereotype. Your explanation of the difference between Ma. and RI is helpful. A little nuance to tell the difference.

    1. I used to complain about New York and New Jersey drivers. Not anymore. Well, maybe some. Okay when I'm on the Cross-Bronx Expressway (sic) make that a lot. And when I get across the GW preparing to head south down the Turnpike, I cinch up the seat belt and start praying.

      Let's just say that my experience of the Turnpike is that it moves along briskly (and I do mean fast) or not at all.

  4. New England is the only area of the country (and Hawaii) I've never driven, so I will take your word for it. Worst drivers in the West? Oregon, followed by Arizona. Best drivers in the West? California. Best roads in the West? Texas.

    When there is precipitation, especially white, sunbelt drivers from any state are a hazard.

    A separate subset of bad drivers, encountered in the Rocky Mountain States, are oil field workers from Louisana. Regarder! Conducteur fou.

    1. I can't argue with any of your assessments WSF. Californians are pretty good and when the white stuff starts falling, 'ware the Sunbelters!

    2. I have to agree with WSF on the Oreganders.
      They seem to be even worse when they visit other states.

    3. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen a car with Oregon plates.

      Forewarned is forearmed. (Or something like that.)

  5. Maine. Worst drivers in New England. Rules, laws, lines...none of these applies to them. Must be the paucity of actual paved roads. (Disclaimer: I love Maine...just not the native drivers. Most aggressive: CT, hands down. I think we can teach New Yorkers some lessons in tailgating.

    1. They have cars in Maine? I don't think I ever really noticed that but you may be right. It's the low density of Maine drivers which fooled me.

      As to Connecticut, you are spot on. When I see CT plates, I try to get out of the way. When traversing I-95 from RI to NY, I wish I could keep my eyes closed. There is always some frightening thing going on.

  6. A former resident of our part of California decided the motto here should be We'll turn in front of you.
    If I were to change your references from RI to CA, a lot of folks here could relate to it because they've experienced it.

    I have an issue with the placement of YIELD signs along the roadways here.
    They been situated such that a driver can easily interpret it to mean the other car is supposed to yield.

    Once upon a time high school students received six weeks of classroom Driver Education (that was the title of the class) in the freshman year and two weeks of behind the wheel training in the sophomore year.
    The idea was they would then get a "learners" permit at 15 and a half years and be prepared to get their license at 16.
    That was much too practical and was eliminated way too many years ago.
    Now many drivers here don't even bother with a drivers license, insurance, or even using their own car.

    1. In Rhode Island, attending a driver's education class is mandatory in high school. But it's all classroom, no practical "behind the wheel" education.

      And the classroom stuff doesn't seem to stick.

      Your last line there Skip, that's a classic.

  7. A few years ago I resolved to become more defensive in my driving (defending my life and my vehicle's fenders), from the plethora of idiots we have here in California. I would agree that there are a lot of good drivers here, used to higher speeds and the skill required to change lanes safely at 70+ MPH, their good habits seem to get diminished by the ones who cut across multiple lanes on the freeway sans blinker or even a mirror check, the ones who have no comprehension of the need to accelerate to freeway speeds when on the on-ramp, the jerks who believe that right on red is ok if there's enough room to sneak in even if it requires the right-of-way person to significantly decelerate, and the massive quantity of people who drive far too slowly, usually in the left lanes, leaving ample space between themselves and the cars in front of them, because they are periodically, if not continuously looking at their cellphones. Cellphones are great, but not on the road, and Californians can't seem to resist the desire to look at Facebook, texts, or whatever while they're driving.

    1. Wow! A whole new perspective on California driving.

      I've been in a car traveling from Hanford to Sandy Eggo and back and was never "terrified" of the surrounding traffic. Most of the California driving I've seen is around Lemoore, not exactly an urban area. Fresno drivers reminded me a lot of Rhode Island drivers. My experience west of the Rockies is limited to being a passenger.

      Perhaps the Sandy Eggo region is "special" for reasons other than the great weather?

  8. Clue-free drivers are a pet peeve of mine, they seem to be every-freakin'-where. I was SO glad to get back home last year after my cross-country jaunt between NM and DeeSee. There's a LOT to be said for living in a sparsely populated region of the country... including few cops. It's an 80 mph world out here in the great wide open.

    1. That's right, you took your life in your hands by crossing the Mississippi headed east last year, in an automobile.

      I'll bet you still have nightmares about that!

  9. Worst ones are Boston, hands down...

  10. Michigan. Those drivers are trying to kill me.

    1. Last time I was there I thought it was the snow trying to kill us. You're saying the drivers are out to get us too?

      Most alarmed I am!

  11. Ah Satori. I only knew blissful driving when I lived in Rhode Island. When I hit the road I didn't have a care in the world. A 76 Plymouth Volare bought second hand from an air force guy will impart the feeling and the sense of complete invulnerability. Worked the whole time I was there. A couple of years later while parked outside the Elliot Bay Book Store in Seattle it was rammed in the back by a VW beetle that then backed up, honked twice and drove off. Alas my car was shoved 4 feet up onto the sidewalk, mowed down a parking meter and was totaled. It's never been the same since then. I cared about all my other cars...

    1. Seattle? The individual was probably high on caffeine!

      Blissful driving in RI? How times have changed.

    2. Well it was Newport. It's just possible that all the guys in their high end cars were a little afraid of somebody with so little to lose. I liked to see the fear in their eyes.

    3. Ah, Newport. That explains it.

  12. I know you said you're driven in Texas and maybe you didn't drive there long enough to see the crazies but all your points are perfect descriptions of Texas drivers. At least in the Dallas/Ft Worth area (actually Houston, too). And the worst drivers I ever saw when I lived in Denver usually had Texas plates. The only wreck I ever had was from a Texan reading a newspaper while driving down I-35 at 70 mph!!

    1. What Russ said. I went to Fort Worth every month for years and drove from DFW or Love to visit a place there. The ones on the various versions of 35 were the worst. Except for all the others who were worse.

    2. The only place I've ever driven in Texas (more than just passing through) was the San Antonio area. Ya know, my descriptions above would fit the drivers in many areas. I think the per capita bad driving is just higher in Rhode Island. More loons, smaller area. Heck, you could plunk all of Rhode Island down in NYC and I doubt anyone would notice!

    3. Forgot to mention. I know Texans who don't consider the Dallas-Fort Worth to be "not part of Texas". (Of course, many of them say the same about Houston, San Antonio, the Gulf coast. Perhaps cities are evil?)

    4. Not a G-Rated comment about to start. Russ's comment sparked this memory, so blame it on him.
      My wife and I took a day off to take care of some chores in San Antonio. We're driving down I-10 just past Boerne (Burn-ey) and traffic is pretty steady at 75 (the speed limit thank you very much), come over the top of a hill and brake lights as far as the eye can see. Work our way through the slow down to find the cause. Lady driving in the left lane in a new VW Beetle with a book on the steering wheel. Turn to the wife and say "I've seen it all now!". Accelerate back up to speed and go another couple of miles and again brake lights. Work my way through that slow down, and pass a guy, in the right lane, shaving. Mind you, I've seen my share of guys shaving while driving, but never with shaving cream and a safety razor. Turn to my wife and say, "Honey, I was wrong before, but now I've seen it all". Driving around San Antonio is comparatively uneventful, chores complete and we're headed home. At the time, the intersection between Loop 1604 and US 281 is controlled by lights and it takes 5 to 10 cycles on a good day to get through. I'm behind a white pickup truck and there's only the driver in it. We make it through the intersection and in the merge, I get about 5 vehicles behind him. We're merging onto the freeway and there's brake lights all over the place as the freeway traffic begins to pass him. I'm wondering what's going on, but he's traveling slower than freeway traffic, so I pull out to pass. I'm just about to pass, when I hear an "OH, My XXX" from my wife.. I turn to look at her and she's staring at the pickup. I shift my gaze to it and see the driver and a totally naked well-endowed young woman sitting facing him in his lap. At that instant in time, I realized that whatever else happened in the remainder of my life, I had truly seen it all!

    5. Okay Juvat. You win the Internet today.

      Everybody else, take the rest of the day off. How could you possibly top that?


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