Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Yes, Lost Tourist, Please Cut Me Off

As I was driving down I-4 the other day, I was reminded of the entirely new set of driving rules I had to learn in Florida. Being from Chicago, I was a mix of assertive and polite. You won't survive on the Dan Ryan expressway if you're a wimp, but you have to offset that with occasionally letting some poor slob in when he's desperate to change lanes or waiting to pull out of a driveway. I also learned to slow down a bit and allow people to merge onto expressways. Then I move to Celebration and the rules were suddenly turned upside down.

In Florida, it's almost never a good idea to let someone get in front of you when they make a sudden decision, turn on their blinker (or not), and try to force their way over. That's because they're usually not just someone who was sleeping at the switch and suddenly realizes they're in the wrong lane. Instead, they're most likely a totally lost tourist, and if you let them in, you'll be going 5 m.p.h. with occasional abrupt stops as they search desperately for whatever it is they've suddenly decided is on your side of the road. I'm more likely to let a local-looking vehicle in; when it's a Chrysler convertible with "Sunshine State" plates (vs. a county), they're not going to wedge their way in front of me without a crowbar.

I've always wondered what the big deal about getting over right now is anyway. The incident that brought this all to mind happened on I-4 approaching the Sand Lake Road exit. There was still almost two miles to go before the exit, yet some dude decided he had to get over right now and it had to be in front of me. Uh, no. A lack of planning/knowledge/whatever on your part doesn't constitute a crisis on mine. He hovered parallel to me with his blinker on, and I studiously maintained just enough space to show him that it wasn't going to happen. Why bother me? Choose some other car to cut off. Get in front of some other tourist and you can be lost together.

Eventually he gave up with a mile still to go. He of course had to honk his horn in irritation before dropping back and moving over; there was plenty of space a couple cars behind me, but people don't seem happy unless they're actually getting in front of someone. As a cognitive therapist, the horn thing always cracks me up. I suppose the honker sees it as an "up yours" sort of gesture, but it makes me laugh because it shows me that they're giving me power over them...the power to really piss them off. Why would they want to give that to a total stranger? Just drop back, merge in elsewhere, and don't waste time stewing about it. Oh well, the "stewers" are more entertaining.

I do try to be polite on the expressway, but sadly it just doesn't work in Florida most of the time. When I'm in the right lane and I see people merging, I slow down to let them in. The majority of the time they see this and slow down too. I slow down more...so do they. They just don't get the concept of "I'm slowing to let you in. I swear it's not a trick." Eventually I just give up and floor it, leaving them in my dust.

Politeness aside, I have utterly no pity for the people who get on a clearly marked tollway, then exit at an unmanned booth and just sit there...and sit there...and sit there...as though it's going to either disappear or coins are going to start falling from the sky like manna from Heaven. This is particularly bad on Osceola Parkway, where I've been in three car backups because some tourist is panicking. Suck it up, dude, and deal with the ticket 'cause you made a stupid choice and have no other option.

I've actually given coins to tourists at the Celebration Avenue toll plaza before I had my SunPass (which has its own lane at that exit, thank goodness). One desperate U.K. family even ran back to my car and offered me some type of British coins in exchange for quarters, but I just thrust some money at them and refused their offering...I'm not too likely to be on a British toll road in the near future.

It is indeed a different world when you're driving in the Tourist Mecca of the U.S. If you're ever looking lost on I-4 or 192 and see Kitt (my Saturn Vue) in the next lane, don't look for any sympathy if you feel the sudden need to be where I am. I've got places to go, and I prefer to get to them at a pace a little faster than 5 m.p.h.