Hells on wheels
by Doc Searls Thursday, August 24, 2017

In the last few days I've driven in California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Utah, New York, New Jersey and New York, in that order. In that sampling, which totaled about 1800 miles, the clichés obtained. From what I saw, eastern urban driving is on the whole aggressive, though not always competitive. Drivers just want to make the light, merge, cut the other driver off, and honk. Western driving can get competitive, meaning there seem to be a lot of drivers who want to win, which they do by getting ahead of other cars and trucks. Speeding is even more standard than elsewhere, perhaps because posted speed limits are 70 and 75. There is also much less honking.

California drivers are, in my ample experience outside this trip, relatively polite, meaning they're more willing to let somebody cut in, or to wave somebody through an intersection. I think that's because 4-way stops are standard throughout California (far more than anywhere else I've been), and the protocols are well understood. Californians also understand that the official protocol for merging traffic is to alternate. This was not understood very well during our time in Wyoming, but all my evidence gathering was in the worst traffic jam in the state's history, when visitors in the dozens of thousands who came to see the eclipse departed en masse from their temporary stations from Lander east past Riverton and Shoshone. It took us six hours to creep west through those three towns, a distance of about 40 miles. License plates on the cars, trucks, campers and RVs we saw were from all over the West (with a few from the east, including our van, registered to Virginia but rented out of Santa Barbara). And it seemed like nobody other than folks with Wyoming plates were willing to let merging traffic in.

Strangest and most dangerous were the drivers eager to pass slower traffic that was already going the 70mph speed limit westbound on 2-lane Wyoming highway 28. We couldn't count how many cars passed on blind hills in oblivity to the possibility of oncoming cars they might hit head on. As my son said, they seemed to be motivated more by anger than impatience. After sitting for hours in stopped traffic, they were damned if they would let any opportunity to get ahead go by.

After so long on the road in that van, it was good to get back into our nice little new '05 Subaru in New York. It amazed me by starting right up and running perfectly. The only bummer was two months of sparrow guano and rotted juniper berries on the hood and the windshield. Next trip: New England next week.