"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Road trip!

We've been preparing for a fun-filled 700-mile round trip to San Antonio this week, which explains why posting has been light lately. I really enjoy road trips; they bring back fond memories of my old hippy days cruising around the country for months at a time in a VW bus, and there's a special allure in the freedom of the open highway that I still find very satisfying. Of course traveling these days is a bit more luxurious, thanks mainly to improvements in automotive technology; our current vehicle is much more reliable than my old microbus. While the VW was "home on wheels", it had a disturbing tendency to break down in the middle of nowhere, and much traveling back then was from one repair shop to the next. I still recall one sad night when the engine sucked a valve stem, shattering a piston and leaving me stranded in the Great Salt Lake desert. I was forced to swallow my pride and call my parents back home in Boston to wire money to have it repaired, dashing the illusion of independence that I tried so hard to cultivate in my rebellious youth. But the old bus finally managed to gasp and lurch all the way to California, completing my grand coast-to-coast adventure. Hopefully we'll be spared any similar mechanical failures on this trip.

Technology has also contributed to improve the experience in other ways; the new van's four-channel stereo sound system and mp3 player will surround us with great road tunes ("Born to Be Wild", "Running On Empty", "Life in the Fast Lane", etc.) as we cruise down the highway, and I have a designated space below the dash to set up the trusty laptop running DeLorme Street Atlas. This software, combined with a portable GPS receiver, shows our precise location on the map display and tells me exactly how to get where I want to go. At the risk of sounding like a DeLorme commercial, after I used it for the first time I could no longer imagine driving into unfamiliar territory without it ever again. It virtually guarantees that you'll never get lost no matter where you are, and shows lodging, restaurants, and other points of interest along your route. You can zoom in anywhere from street level to full cross-country view. I love it.

One thing the GPS software can't do, however, is compensate for the unruly nature of Texas drivers. Around our small town, people are very courteous and safe - but once out on the highway, especially in bigger cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas and yes, San Antonio, all bets are off; if you drive like you were taught in "defensive driving" class, you'll be run off the road. On the Houston freeways in particular, everyone practices what I call the "hole theory" of driving, which is as follows: you own the "hole" that exists between your front bumper and the rear bumper of the car in front of you, and you guard it at all costs. This hole must be large enough to allow time to react if the car in front of you slows down or, God forbid, stops (the trick to this is to watch the brake lights not of the car in front of you but the car in front of him). But, if your hole is too large you will be taken advantage of by every other vehicle on the freeway who will cut you off mercilessly. You might as well display large signs on the front and rear of your car reading "PLEASE CUT IN FRONT OF ME. I AM AN IDIOT."

So with this in mind, I found the following "Rules for Driving In Texas", which should be helpful for anyone motoring across the Lone Star State:

1. A right lane construction closure is just a game to see how many people can cut in line by passing you on the right as you sit in the left lane waiting for the same jerks to squeeze their way back in before hitting the orange construction barrels.

2. Turn signals will give away your next move. A Real Texan never uses them.

3. Under no circumstances should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, or the space will be filled in by somebody else putting you in an even more dangerous situation (Aha! See? It's the Hole Theory!); therefore, tailgating is a "must" for all Real Texans.

4. Crossing two or more lanes in a single lane-change is considered "going with the flow."

5. The faster you drive through a red light, the less chance you have of getting hit.

6. If you MUST use turn signals, here's how to do it, Texas-Style:
* Signal only when you feel like it.
* If you feel you must use your directionals, make sure they blink only once, then turn them off.
* Signal only after you change lanes. When driving straight, make sure that at least one directional is blinking at all times. This keeps the drivers behind you on their toes.
* Signal as you approach a curve in the road.
* If you intend to make a right turn, use the left signal.
* If you intend to make a left turn, use the right signal.
* When approaching an intersection, signal to turn and slow down. When other drivers or pedestrians cross in front of you, turn off the signal and go straight.
* When you intend to make a turn, start signaling approximately 6-8 blocks before your turn. Slow down for each block as you approach them.
* Always apply your brakes way before you signal.
* When making a left turn at a busy red light, wait for the light to turn green before you turn on your signal.
* Wait until after you have started to turn or change lanes to use your signals.
* If you must use hand signals instead of your directionals, use your right hand or have your passenger do it out the right side window.

We'll be off shortly and I'll post an update once we get to the Alamo City. If we make it there alive and in one piece, that is.


  • At 1/18/2006 01:52:00 PM, Blogger Mr. Toast said…

    It's really scary, but everything you just wrote is the truth and not an exaggeration!!! Driving in Texas was the scariest experience I've ever had, but riding with a true Texan driver might be even scarier. Have fun on your road trip and be safe!!!!

  • At 1/18/2006 05:39:00 PM, Blogger Jim said…

    hole theory is terrific

  • At 1/18/2006 10:31:00 PM, Blogger April said…

    Enjoy your road trip... I'd like to hear more stories of your adventures as a young'n driving the old bus... I love those kind of stories! My husband has driven in Texas, and he will strongly agree that in that neck of the woods, it is every man for himself, and you gotta grab the bull by its horns and learn really fast how to drive "texan style"


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