While talking to my sister last night, I made a comment about how I've become a more fearless driver since living here and it got me to thinking about my driving progression. [Enter that dreamy music for a montage of my past driving experiences] I remember in college when people from Northern Virginia would boast about how they learned to drive in the "mixing bowl" of the DC metro area. Me? I learned in Virginia Beach. Among residential streets and strip malls, a 55 MPH highway and loads of open roads. Sure there is traffic, but I was 16! I was never driving in rush hour or trying to parallel park my 1990 Ford Taurus Station wagon. From this driver haven, I then drove in Raleigh, NC, where rules hardly apply and the speed is so casually slow that if you were going with the flow of traffic it was sometimes under the speed limit. Like one guy with a pick up truck didn't realize that he was going slow so we all slowed down to fit in with him. And then I moved to San Diego.
My first driving experiences in San Diego literally, not the Kardashian version of literally, gave me hives. I couldn't figure out why there were so many freeways and always seemed to end up in the Ikea parking lot in Mission Valley. Was I ever headed there? Well sure, like 2 times but every time I'd end up there and think "seriously?? again??" In time, the late mergers, the Mexican trucks hauling 14 mattresses back across the border and the Coronado bridge became something that I was more comfortable with and seemed significantly less intimidating.
With this renewed confidence in my driving abilities, which Tom will always remind me are sub-par at best, I came to Italy thinking "I can do this!" And during August, I was awesome! I dodged the 4 Vespas left on the road and maneuvered around the 14 cars parked on our street and gave myself a reassuring pat on the back regularly. And then everyone came back from vacation and the "Oh Shit, this actually IS hard" realization hit me. I've said before that Italians are crazy drivers and it's SO true! Turn signals are a sign of weakness. I presume the theory is "I don't need to tell you that I'm coming in, just expect it!" So when I would cut people off or get let into traffic and gave that little American "thanks!" wave, I got a look of "Put your hand down and drive, Idiot!" One finger, the pointer preferably, is all that you use, if ever, to show gratitude and/or yielding of right of way. The latter happens so incredibly rarely that I think I've only seen it twice in 3 months.
The sign to the right means "No Passing." When Kristine came out to visit and drove around the Panda (further reading available in previous blog post Up and Down the Amalfi Coast), my warning for her was "Be the black car. Whatever the black car is doing is what you want to be doing. Don't be the red car." The exit ramp to Vomero, our neighborhood, off the Tangenziale, the major highway that runs east to west through Naples, is this long, skinny S-shaped bridge. During August, it was nearly always empty and the merge from the ramp to the street was pretty simple. Now, all that has changed! Rounding the corner one day, I saw two lines of cars dead stopped. "What?? Look at all of these people being the red car! Don't they know that you are supposed to always be the black car!??!" The black car rule is dead now. Yesterday, as I was being the black car, the line of cars beside me growing ever longer, an ambulance came screaming up from behind. "I'm interested to see how this goes," I thought to myself. He went down the middle. Oh my God! The bridge to my house, which is decidely one lane wide, was three cars of traffic deep. I was driving the CRV to keep the battery from dying again, and the sideview mirror was hanging over the guard rail, about 500 feet above the ground below. "Mamma mia..." escaped my lips before I decided to cowboy up and not let something little like this bridge collapsing turn me into a coward!
To help myself cope with the insanity, I took the longer way home to avoid the blind turn of death that I normally take. It was significantly more enjoyable to take the longer route. Yes, there's an unyielding traffic circle, about 10 blind curves around which there's normally a pack of Vespas in the middle of both lanes, and cars parked in both directions of the same side of the street with mirrors just waiting to be taken off, but, now I'm the unyielding jerk for those people making the blind turn and that is much better than being the timid car trying to sneak across two lanes of traffic. Cut somebody else off, buddy! I'm not making eye contact or even beginning to move my foot off the gas.
In the future, I'll know I'm more Neopolitan when I remove the break completely from my car. For now, I still use it. Though, the other Neopolitan trick is to use your breaks in conjunction with your hazard lights, that's how infrequently they are used...
More tales of crazy to come soon!