By some magic, I am the only non-native Seattleite in my office. Well. According to me, that is. There’s some local quirk that considers anyone from a suburban area 30 minutes away from the city’s center to be from “out of town,” in which case I’m a double transplant. In one case, I’m from the Midwest. In another, I live in the actual city of Seattle, whereas everyone else is from suburban points south.
Most of the people in my office refuse to drive into Seattle, which is insane because a) the office is technically in the city of Seattle, albeit at the very southernmost tip, b) getting to what they consider to be the city of Seattle takes maybe 20 minutes on an okay day, and c) who in the hell never leaves their suburb?! Everyone’s main reason for staying where they are is traffic. While I don’t think this is a 100% valid excuse, I have driven here, and it does make a little bit of sense.
Maybe it’s the Norse sense of straightforward practicality, but Seattleites have no qualms over complaining about how they themselves drive. Today, one coworker told me that Seattle drivers were the worst she’s ever seen, a harsh statement that’s not entirely true, but I guess if you’ve never lived anywhere else and refer to points over the Rockies as “Back East,” I can see how she’d come to that conclusion.
I’ve lived and traveled all over the place by car, which is why I’m hesitant to name one particular place as having the Worst Drivers Ever. In my experience, each city has its own bad driving habits, and trying to compare one to another in terms of whose are worse is like trying to compare asses to elbows in the incinerated wreckage of a pileup.
In St. Louis, people drive as though they’re participating in Operation Fuck You. For all of its purported Midwestern politesse, there’s a blatant disregard for traffic laws and the personal safety of others. Guy in the next lane signaling to merge? Fuck you, I’m speeding up. Long line of cars behind you on a single lane street? Fuck you, I’m stopping with my hazards on to talk to some guy I know at a bus stop. Ambulance/fire engine/police car bearing down on you with sirens and lights on full blast? Fuck you, probably not a real emergency, anyway. St. Louis drivers hate pedestrians, despise cyclists, and frequently release their building anger and spite into episodes of sometimes-handgun-related road rage.
In Southern California, it’s Operation I Will Die If I Slow Down. Now, I’m not one of those slow drivers who chills out in the left lane all day, but when I’ve merged onto the interstate less than ¼ of a mile before, people should not be whipping out from behind me like I’m standing still. First I tried doing 70. Then 80. Then 90. And still, other motorists glared at me from blurred windows as they blew past, seemingly in the world’s biggest hurry to get somewhere and wait. Because nowhere in Southern California takes less than 45 minutes. Nowhere.
In Boston, it’s Operation If You Can’t Stand the Heat Get the Fuck Off the Freeway. Which I understand. I was in Boston during the height of the Big Dig, which meant that a lot of roads were closed and no alternate routes were available. Everyone was jammed onto limited road space and they all had places to go, and if you needed sympathy then you had better look to someone other than a New Englander for it. They do not have time for your bullshit.
In Virginia, it’s Operation I Am the Only Person in the World Who Has a Car and Uses This Particular Roadway. I have no idea what the fuck is going on in Virginia, but no one who drives there seems at all conscious that other people are driving, too, meaning they frequently brake check for no reason whatsoever and make 3-lane merges despite whole cars being in the way. Also, they’re very into personalized plates for some reason.
In Chicago, just get the fuck out of the way of the cabs.
In the rest of Illinois, you’re actually pretty good if you’re on the interstate or other major freeway. It’s when you move to the roads that you encounter a people who think it’s just fine to stop in the middle of the street if they’re not sure where to turn, park, or go next, and who express disbelief that anyone would ever want to drive as though it’s something other than Sunday afternoon in 1950.
In Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and parts of Texas, it’s WHERE THE HELL’S YER CONFEDERATE FLAG, FAGGOT? Just let these people pass. They have cousins/farm animals/other Hillbilly Hitler Youth to fuck, so don’t even waste time getting mowed down by a truck with balls hanging from the trailer hitch.
In Seattle, I have no idea how to classify the drivers. To begin, they’re a typically polite, considerate, rule-following people. No one really runs red lights here, everyone stops for pedestrians, and you can almost always find someone who will allow you to merge instead of getting pissed and running you off the road (take that, St. Louis!). However, these manners can be an issue at times, and the “after you…no, I insist, after you…sorry, we’re practically Canadian, sorry” thing would be hilarious if it wasn’t so maddeningly counterproductive. They haven’t yet mastered the zipper effect of merging into slow-moving traffic that even downtown St. Louis can accomplish during baseball games. Instead, one person will come to a complete stop and let as many people in as possible, which is great for everyone who needs to merge but not so much for the people who have already been sitting in traffic for an hour. Also, the mergers have come to expect this, so they typically whizz right on through and assume that once their lane ends, someone has to let them over. Because of physics magic.
For a city that is located in a temperate rainforest and has been nicknamed Rain City, Seattleites are surprisingly bad at driving in the rain. They’re very cautious and don’t seem to mind worn down brake pads, but they also remain ignorant of the location of freeway exits and ending lanes. It’s possible that the concept of lane changes is utterly fantastical to Seattle drivers, because they practice them with a gleeful impunity for no obvious reason. Many Seattle drivers see rain (and its doom-bringing cousin, the 15 mph wind) as a weather dealbreaker, and will leave work early and flood grocery stores in anticipation of what is surely going to be the apocalypse. This is great for preparedness but not so much for me, who’s just trying to leave work at 3:30pm without some lunatics stretching my commute into the hourlong range.
I’d much rather walk in Seattle than take the bus, and I’d much rather take the bus than drive. And if it weren’t for those occasional views of the mountains along the 5 or the view past the ferris wheel and over the bay on the 99, I’d forget the car altogether.