Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Drive me crazy

After you live some place for a while, you tend to develop a loyalty to the place and you defend it's attributes against attacks from outsiders. I feel that way about my adopted home town of Tampa. I like our sports teams, our entertainment, our restaurants, and I don't like people who don't live here mouthing off about them. Just the other day, out of nowhere and apropos of nothing, somebody who lives a thousand miles from here made a derogatory comment about the discussed-to-death topic of attendance at Tampa Bay Rays games. We're tired of talking about it and we live here; why in the world do you care? Go worry about your own crappy teams and how none of them are going to make the playoffs in any sport and leave us alone. But I digress. The point is I like my town and will happily defend it against criticism from those who don't live here...with one notable exception: the freakshow that takes place on our roadways. I will only chide anybody who criticizes our traffic, drivers, pedestrians or the very roads themselves for being too kind. Let's start with the fact that the entirety of downtown Tampa is currently under construction, something to do with replacing sewer lines or something. For some genius reason, it was decided to do 30 or 40 small jobs all at the same time instead of doing them one at a time. As a result, road closures change on a daily basis and it is literally impossible to get from one part of downtown to another without running into at least one major mess. Luckily, because it sucks whether major construction is taking place or not, nobody ever goes downtown unless they absolutely have to.
And now, the standard rebuttal on behalf of the Tampa Downtown Partnership that is automatically issued anytime someone suggests that any aspect of downtown Tampa "sucks"Oh. Okay. Good point. Thanks for clearing that up.

Anyway, forget downtown. Tampa traffic can best be summarized with one thoroughfare: Dale Mabry Highway. 23 miles of seven-laned mayhem where speed limits are completely meaningless and drivers are less eager to help their fellow motorists merge into traffic than members of the Westboro Baptist Church are to stand up and sing along to "YMCA" at a ballgame. On any five minute jaunt on Hillsborough County's busiest road, you'll see people who drive like Steve McQueen after mainlining Red Bull (God help you if you even think of slowing down upon seeing a traffic light turn yellow!) and people who have no intention of arriving anywhere, ever ("Oh, is that as green as that light gets? Maybe if I sit here just a little longer it will get
really pretty"). Notice I said "and", not "or". That's right, these idiots are on the road at the same time. When I first moved here, over 20 years ago, I refused to have anything to do with Dale Mabry because it was so damn scary. Now I drive it all the time like it's no big deal. Not because it's gotten better or because I've developed special skills to cope with it. I'm pretty sure it's just because I don't have quite the will to live that I had back then. Please allow me to demonstrate some of the insanity with a couple of visual aids. Now, I assume you are familiar with the concept of changing lanes, yes? The process of moving from one lane of traffic into another? This is usually accomplished by checking traffic in the lane you'd like to change to, signaling courteously and then decisively moving into that lane of traffic. Like so: Yep, that's how that kind of transaction is usually handled. But not in Tampa. We don't really "change" lanes, we just kind of drift over until we just sort of "evolve" and exist into being in that lane. Like this: (Note: If I were really trying to depict this accurately, the line would be much, much longer, and I would have to shrink the diagram so small you wouldn't even be able to see it.) Something relatively new that's been added to the equation is the notion that one must come to a complete stop before executing a right turn off of a roadway. It's as though everyone is transporting several full and open containers of very expensive inks or dyes in their vehicles. I don't know where this new trick came from, but it has upped the nerve-fraying factor considerably.
Why is it like this? It would be very easy to blame Florida drivers but that can't be it because almost nobody on the road learned to drive in Florida because everybody here is from some place else. And don't think the madness is limited to drivers. Our pedestrians are equally as cementheaded as the people behind the wheels. It's amazing that the official noise of the City of Tampa isn't the *THUMP!* of a human body being struck by a motor vehicle. Because like lane changes, we have a similar approach to crossing streets. It's not about getting from Point "A" to Point "B" quickly and safely like people who live places where they've developed a healthy fear of the death and dismemberment that can occur from being struck by an automobile, like this:
No, in Tampa it's more about meandering vaguely in a general direction and eventually winding up where you're going, like this:
Or this: And don't even get me started on the people who ride motorcycles.

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