Monday, October 26, 2009

Country Girl Tries City Driving

A while back I enrolled in an eight week course in Portland, the state’s largest city. It wasn't a requirement for my job, but I felt I needed a refresher in order to handle some new responsibilities in a correct and orderly manner.

I enjoyed the class.

I despised the commute!!

I remember when Franklin County had one stop light--at the corners of Main and Broadway in Farmington. And that was enough. But what has been loosely termed progress has arrived in our state of Maine, and with it has come an impressive increase in vehicular traffic.

I like living on a dirt road. I enjoy inhaling the dust of a parched gravel lane as compared to the exhaust fumes of a steady stream of cars and trucks. I can brag about how many dents are in my oil pan from rocks thrown up by my tires. I am at ease driving on washboards.

But I am scared silly by city driving.

Take driving on a turnpike, for example. To travel to Portland I can get on the pike in Waterville, Auburn or Augusta, and the mileage is about the same from my house to any of these cities. It doesn't matter where I get on I-95. I still have to find an on ramp, and I have to merge. My dictionary compares merging with being "swallowed up" or "losing individuality or identity". I don't like the sound of that, but even so, those definitions are less frightening than the actual act of merging. My knuckles go white just thinking about it. I picture myself on the ramp; cars behind me, two lanes of tractor trailers, SUV's and vans screaming past on the highway to my left. If any of them are driving at 65 m.p.h. or less, it's a miracle. Somehow, I've got to speed up on this short curvy ramp until I'm breaking the sound barrier too, and intimidate enough of them to shove over so that I've got room to get swallowed up. There are impatient drivers behind me urging me on. The ramp and its additional space is almost at an end. With death grip on the steering wheel, foot on the accelerator, I open my mouth and scream a silent scream at the booby driving the little Honda directly to my left. Apparently, the awesome sight of my uvula dangling from the back of my throat intimidates the driver, because at the last second he darts into the passing lane between two semi's and allows me to merge.

My pulse slows a little, and I focus on the task at hand. Keep my pick-up at sixty-five. Stay to the right except to pass. But I hate passing tractor trailers! It takes too long and the wind they create sucks me this way and blows me that. What if the driver of the big rig didn't see me pull out and he decides to pass the car in front of him? I'll be tossed into the median for the rescue personnel to find! Or, there might be a guard rail on my left. Claustrophobia could set in as I'm squeezed between solid metal and solid truck, and my mind would turn to slush. I could stray too far over towards that innovative creation, the rumble strip and have a heart attack wondering where all the noise was coming from!

The turnpike is fraught with peril! Concentration is impossible. Dig out money for toll booths! Don't go too fast, but don't go too slow! Pull over into the passing lane before each new merge! Arrgh!

But finally, at last, I'm free. I roll down the off ramp at a soothing thirty miles per hour....

And end up in the middle of the city. A six lane street greets me. There are cars on my left going in the same direction as I am! Sometimes a little faster, sometimes a little slower, but they are close enough to me to be able to start up a personal relationship. There are arrows on the pavement below and signs strung on cables above directing my every move. Get in this lane to turn left. Stay in that lane to go right. To continue moving straight ahead, get out of the straight ahead lane for a quick thirty seconds, and then try to get back into it before the lane you've moved to comes to a dead end. Traffic lights are blinking. Horns are honking. Fingers are doing more than gripping steering wheels! These city folk can be rude! Forget about blinkers. Ignore speed limits! Don't worry about insurance premiums. Get out of my way!!! The very air seems super-charged with frayed nerves and rage that's about to boil over. But I know that I must be almost to my destination!

Now, what in the world is this? A rotary!? Who thought up that idea? As if I'm not already confused enough about which lane to be in and for how long, now they want to make me dizzy at the same time?!! Will centrifugal force spin me out into the proper exit from this monstrosity of modern engineering? Good grief!

At last, I've arrived at school. I made it! I don't have to go out into that madness for another eight hours, when it will be time to drive back home to the Township again. I'll worry about it when the day is over, but for now I've got another problem.

I can't find a single place to park.

The photo above is NOT of the traffic in Portland, Maine, but rather of the traffic in Times Square, New York City, New York. It was taken by me on my 'night walk' in May of 2009 while I was in NYC as a featured author in my publisher's booth at Book Expo America.

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