Monday, August 27, 2012

Redwood Road

I'm a California native by birth and I've been driving for 33 years, 28 of them in California. I've seen a lot of pretty nutty driving in California, but the things that I've seen in Utah make California pale by comparison.

As a California native, I'm used to seeing people drive pretty much the same all year round. But here in Utah, things are different. In summer, drivers can be aggressive, rude and even indifferent to the plight of other drivers. But when the snow comes in winter, the same drivers suddenly get all polite.

One notable exception would be SUV drivers. While I'm doing 20-25 MPH on the freeway in heavy snow, some SUVs are blazing by at 40-50 MPH. I remember asking about snow tires for my first winter here and I learned that common sense would serve me better than snow tires. Those SUVs? From time to time, I would pass them in a snowstorm as they faced oncoming traffic the wrong way on the freeway after a spin-out or on the side of the freeway – the wheels are spinning, but they're upside down. Tire salesmen I've talked to referred to that phenomenon as “SUV confidence”.

On the way to work one day, I was cut off by an SUV. As we came to a stoplight I saw that there was a bumper sticker on the back that said, “SUV drivers do it without looking!”. Fair enough. I considered that to be a fluke and went on my way. Only a few minutes later, another SUV cuts me off. This SUV had a different bumper sticker that read, “If you don't like the way that I'm driving, get off the sidewalk!”

Hmm. Is this the start of a trend? I'm less than a half mile from work when a giant, pearly white Lincoln Aviator abruptly pulls in front of me to be first in line at the next red light. Sure enough, their bumper sticker makes a finer point with, “What was that?”

Anyone familiar with the Redwood Drive-in Theatre on the west side of Redwood near 3800 South knows what a circus that place can be. Lines can form beyond the curb and extend from the entrance and back up to the north end of the block. In the painted center island in front of the theater, lines can form and back up the other way to 3800 South. Numerous times, I've seen multiple vehicles making simultaneous, desperate left turns in front of me or other drivers with less than a second or two to spare just to get into or to leave the theater. And that is just for the swap meet. I've come to think of them as the Stunt Drivers of Utah.

One particularly interesting habit I've seen looks like this: a driver on a side street will make a left turn to merge into traffic on the opposite side of Redwood Road. But he's not using an ordinary island as a place to wait for traffic to clear so he can merge. No, that won't do, no sireee! Instead, he's waiting in a left turn lane – facing the wrong way. I've encountered this head on and when I see them in front of me, I'm like deer stuck in headlights. The other driver? He does this every day and knows exactly what to do. He checks his mirror, waits for the traffic to clear, and then merges safely, like nothing special had happened.

The most curious incident I've seen though is very similar to the example above, but with a twist. A driver makes a left turn from the apartment driveway at 3860 South to head north on Redwood Road. He is facing the wrong way in the left turn lane but proceeds anyway. It's dark, so as he proceeds up along the left turn lane, he doesn't notice the small island in front of him on approach to 3800 South. He takes out a small post and strands his car on top of the island with the tires straddling the island. When I came upon him he was on his cell phone calling for help.

After seeing that, I found that my nomenclature was inadequate to describe some of the drivers of Utah. Now I think of them as the Stunted Drivers of Utah.

Drive safely.