Saturday, January 31, 2009

This probably won’t end well.

So I've just got back from my first US night-driving experience.

I hate driving at night. First of all I have very little depth-perception at the best of times and at night my depth perception drops down to almost zero. My lack of 3D vision, darkness and rural roads are just about the worst combination I can think of.

Oh, I just thought of something that can make the driving experience worse. Driving with a dirty, greasy windshield that suddenly decides to fog up at the wrong moment.

Just to get an idea of how bad my depth perception is, shortly after setting off I saw a red light ahead of me at the end of the road, so lifted off the gas so I could stop in time…and when I glanced down at the GPS, I saw that I'd lifted off the gas with a full quarter-mile left to go before the light.

If I'm on a well lit street I can tell where the light is. If I'm driving down an unlit road that doesn't even have reflectors in the middle, that traffic signal can be half a mile away or fifty yards away…I can't tell the difference.

At one point, Sunny was urgently telling me to stop trying to wipe the screen and concentrate on what I was doing because I was starting to drift out of my lane…when I wasn't veering because I wasn't concentrating…I was veering because I literally couldn't see a god…damn…thing. An oncoming car had turned my field of vision into nothing more than a high-beams and greasy-windshield starburst cocktail.

Seriously, I would have had better visibility if I was driving with a paper bag over my head.

The other problem is Sunny often forgets who she's actually driving with.

For example, earlier today we were approaching the end of the road and I suddenly had a choice. I could either turn right or keep left and merge with the main highway. Just to make me a little more relaxed, traffic was extremely heavy and this was my first 15 minutes in a car I've never driven before…which just so happened to also be twice the size of any car I've driven before (our new car is a mid-sized, I've only ever driven compact cars).

So, without daring to take my eyes of the road, I say to Sunny "Are we turning right or going straight?"

"Well…" Says Sunny, in the same relaxed tone of voice that someone might use when deciding whether to spend the afternoon at the beach or at the hotel bar. "If we go straight we…"

The corner is coming up really fast. I'm at the point where I have to do something because if I keep up my speed, I'll be going too fast to make the turn, but if I start to slow down, I'll be going too slow to merge with the traffic on the highway. In the meantime, Sunny's still talking…

"…the back way works, but it depends if you…"

"WHICH EFFING WAY?!?!!?!" I scream like a toddler on a roller-coaster. "STRAIGHT OR TURN?!?!"

At this point, I just about shit my pants and slow down to take the turn. I'm going slightly too fast for the turn and slightly too slow to merge, so I figure taking a corner too fast beats merging into the side of an 18 wheeler. Turn made, I glance to my right and see Sunny is pissed at me for shouting at her.

I don't blame her…she just keeps forgetting (or doesn't understand) who she's driving with.

You see, Sunny thinks I'm just another driver and she's a passenger. This is not true.

In reality I'm a terror-fueled bundle of nerves. I'm getting back into driving after an almost seven-year hiatus. I'm driving on roads I'm unfamiliar with to get to a place that I don't know the way to. Everything feels like it's backwards. Deeply ingrained driving habits from learning to drive in England will get me killed in a second on American roads, while perfectly safe maneuvers feel suicidal. I'm fighting the urge to look to the left for my mirror, habit is telling me that a left turn means I only have to look to the right to see if it's safe, many intersections over here make zero sense to me…and I keep reaching (to the left) for a non-existent gear-shift and trying to step on a clutch pedal that isn't there. I'll see a car coming towards me in the distance, and realize with horror that they're coming towards me on the left side of the road. My side.

Basically, when I ask Sunny if I go straight or turn left, she thinks I'm a normal person asking for her opinion on which way she thinks would be the best way to go. You know, no rush.

I say "Left or Right" and Sunny takes it to mean "Hmmm, traffic is pretty heavy at this time of day, d'you think we'd save some time if we went down (insert road here) instead? Which way would you suggest?"

The reality is a little different, I say "Left or Right?" and what I really mean is "ARRRRRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!! What the fuck am I doing at the controls of this Hell-wrought death-mobile?! Are you people crazy?!?! Oh FUCK! A corner! I have no FUCKING clue what I'm doing. Quick, tell me what to do! WHAT DO I DO??? OH GOD PLEASE!!!! WHAT DO I DO?!! LEFT OR RIGHT??? LEFT OR RIGHT??? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LEFT OR RIGHT?!?!?"


Yeah…nervous driver.


Sunny said...

Yeah, we all were/are nervous drivers- especially in this day and many lunatics on the road even a 33 year driving veteran like ME gets nervous on certain roads sometimes.

It's way scarier for ME to be in the passenger seat than driving tho- I've been in 11 auto accidents, after all and three of them could have easily been fatal ones. AND I'm nervous because I don't want to let YOU get in one so I think I'm being overly cautious and over-thinking everything which makes it worse for you as well.

I taught both my boys to drive and I can tell you now that it's WAY easier to teach someone from scratch than to RE-teach someone with a totally different set of rules.

I think for a couple of months we just need to stick with you driving in the daytime on the less traveled roads til you get a bit more used to the US "bass-ackards" way of doing road things.

Don't worry, sweetie- I may get a bit pissed when you yell at me when you're driving- but I DO understand and won't stay pissed for long.

We'll deal.

Evan 08 said...

I second Sunny's recommendation...

Start out driving in the conditions where you're least nervous... the daytime and backroads. You'll get the hang of things...