The World According to Keitho

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A salute to New York drivers.

Posted by keithosaunders on June 22, 2010

I was driving home from my gig last Friday, a birthday party which was held at the Four Seasons restaurant on the east side of Manhattan.  The bass player was with me, and as I was pulling onto the 59th st Bridge all of a sudden a cab cut directly in front of me from the right.  I couldn’t move to the left hand lane since there was a car directly to my side.  I had to brake, swerve, and accelerate, all within the span of a second.  The bass player calmly noted “You’ve got your New York chops.” 

The truth is that maneuvers such as this happen every time you drive in New York.  We don’t look at it as a big deal.  It’s reality.  When I’m driving downtown on 7th Ave I expect the cab on my right to dart in front of me to pick up that fair.  He, in turn expects me to squeeze in front of him in because my lane is ending due to construction.  He’s looking out for me, I’m looking out for him.  No big deal.  Sure, sometimes we have close calls.  That’s what the horn is for.  We use it liberally. 

I haven’t yet moved to the Bay Area (still seven weeks to go) but my wife and I recently spent a weekend there looking for homes.  During that time I had my re-introduction to west coast  driving, and let me tell you, I do not have my California chops yet.   

In New York when I want to change lanes, one of two things occurs.  Either the person to my left speeds up and passes me, or he slows down and lets me in.  Either way is fine with me.  I just want to change the damn lane.  In Cali the drivers jealousy guard their lane.  They will not budge one inch and I found myself having to force the issue by squeezing in.  inevitably they would become upset and shoot me a scowl or give me the finger.  Apparently one must plan for his lane changes well in advance.

The other thing that bothered me about the driving habits out there was how often the light would change and the driver would not notice.  And you don’t honk there — it’s simply not done!  So you just sit and stew waiting for the driver to wake up.  Here in New York we would be all over the horn.  “Cmon!  Move it!”  The driver at the light might respond with a hearty “Aw, blow it out your ass!”   But you know what?  It works.  In the end everyone is happy — no bottled up aggression here.

Just this morning I witnessed an all-time classic New York driving move.  It was executed by my wife’s 91-year-old great-uncle Ralph.  I drove my mother in law and her friend up to Ralph’s place in the Bronx where he was waiting to drive the three of them up to another friend’s house in Westchester.  I pulled over alongside the curb, and I don’t know why, but Ralph pulled his car out of his driveway facing the wrong way.  He was pulled over a few feet from my car but he was facing the oncoming traffic!  How did he do it?  Why  did he do it?!  These are mysteries better left for the ages, but I’ll tell you this:   I tip my cap to Uncle Ralph.  He executed the move perfectly, with confidence and conviction.  I couldn’t have pulled it off.  It takes a native New Yorker to have the wherewithal and the moxie.  Take that, California!

[Ralph’s car is facing the white SUV.]

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