Saturday, March 20, 2010

stranger in a strange land

i felt so out of place on the jersey turnpike. i mean, i know how to change lanes aggressively in heavy traffic and all that, but where i'm from we customarily use the directional signal to indicate intent of a future action.

on the jersey turnpike (and in new jersey in general, apparently) there are two common practices regarding the directional, used with roughly equal frequency.

the first and easiest to perform is that the directional is simply not used, not ever, unless it is accidentally switched on while texting and then it is not turned off until the driver crosses over into pennsylvania.

the second and more entertaining form is that in which the driver uses the directional signal to announce a fait accompli. "hello", they seem to say. "i have just gotten in front of you."

i wonder if perhaps culturally one does not use the directional to signal intent because this represents a challenge to other drivers who perceive that defensive action must be taken in order to prevent you from changing lanes.

maybe it's unfair to even speculate on that, because the whole time i was in new jersey people just went ahead and let me change lanes even though i had signaled that i wished to do so. of course, i think i mentioned that i'm perfectly capable of driving aggressively in heavy traffic.

another thing that marks me as a foreigner on that road (aside from my car, which is um, less common in new jersey than it is at home, and my plates, which are definitely from away) is that i cheerfully let people into my lane if it appears to me that they wish to come over.

"foreigner", they will perhaps say. but i was born in new jersey and they can't take that away from me.

i wonder, though, how fast one has to be going to get pulled over for speeding on the new jersey turnpike? the whole time i was on it, the flow of densely-packed traffic was scooting along at about 85 MPH, except for when passing a state trooper, in which case the speed across all four lanes instantly decreased to 60 for about two seconds.

who, exactly, is going to be fooled by that?

and yet incredible as it seems, people WERE getting stopped for speeding. maybe the officers just pick drivers at random from the huge crowd going by? or maybe they set their sights on that one guy trying to go even faster than that by weaving from lane to lane?

i didn't see a lot of those guys; it was pretty much wall-to-wall cars.

there's a beauty in it, though: kind of an organic flow. packed traffic, nearly bumper to bumper and moving along smoothly like some huge and dangerous ballet.

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