Okay, so I've never considered myself a great driver. I failed my first driving test because I was so concerned with backing out of my space correctly that I didn't realize how much I had cut the wheel. Did you know that if your driving tester has to stop you from having an accident then you automatically fail? I learned the heard way. I've had my share of accidents ranging from rear-ending someone about 3 days after I got my license (passed the second time with FLYING colors) to backing over an Asian bicyclist. Disclaimer on the bicyclist: what kind of moron bikes in Chicago dressed in all black with no reflectors on her bike in the rain at 11 PM at night? Although I technically was at fault for hitting her it was TOTALLY her fault. Moving on...
So I get I'm not the best which is why I was pleasantly suprised to hear one of our visiting friends comment that I'm a good driver and how well I know my way around the island. Thanks, Lauren!! Anyways, despite the kind words, I'm not sure if it has anything to do with how well I drive vs. how BAD everyone on this island does! I lived in Chicago the last 8 years- I learned how to drive defensively. What I did there doesn't hold a candle to what I do here.
For starters, we drive on the left here but in American cars with the wheel also on the left. I haven't quite figured out why but I'm guessing it has something to do with being a former British territory? Driving on the left side of the road from the left side of the car leaves perspective on the 'center line' a bit cloudy. I use quotes b/c 75% of our roads don't HAVE a center line. Unfortunate since 75% of our roads also have pretty steep cliffs off the left.
Driving while talking on your cell phone? Ticket. Driving without a seatbelt? Ticket. Driving with a beer in your hand? Move right along! Since the drinking age is 18, we get no federal funding for roads. You Chicagoans think you have pothole problems? Think again! Some of these can swallow your car, literally. There is good reason we all travel with cans of Fix-A-Flat in our glove compartment.
Growing up in St. Louis I was used to left turns and right turns. Moving to Chicago after college I learned hard left/right and soft left/right turns at 6-way intersections. Moving here I learned the meaning of really, really hard turns. As in turns that are at least 270 degrees. No joke. You HAVE to be in two lanes- either the ones you are turning OUT of or the ones you are turning INTO. Bizarre!
Since I didn't have to take the driving test down here, rather I surrendered my license and $40 plus 5 hours of my time, I have no idea if they actually teach you how to signal before your turn with the actual indicators. My guess is no because nobody does it! Instead, people just (a) stop and turn causing me to slam on my breaks because why would I assume the car in front of me is going to just randomly stop? or (b) hang their hand out the window. I don't mean when they want to turn. No, that would be too easy to identify. They just hang it out the entire time they are driving and give a flip of the wrist or a finger or whatever to let me know they are turning. I hang my hand out the window all the time but not to signal- I wonder if I really screw with people behind me?
So while my driving may not have gotten better, my navigational skills certainly have. The island only has 5 main roads and none of them are named. They have numbers but no one, I repeat- no one, has any idea what they are. Directions are given based on landmarks and I use the word 'landmark' loosely. Here are a few of the main landmarks:
- The Hometown (gas station on north side)
- The Castle (actually a castle, not really sure if it's a restaurant or what)
- The Stop-Sign-Everyone-Blows (no explanation necessary, you don't know it's there you ain't stopping)
- The 270 Degree Turn
- The Post Office (automatically defaults to the one in Frenchtown. Not sure why.)
Once we learned these I felt good getting around on the island and giving directions on the island! It's still kind of surreal to me that I can't tell people to turn left at Ashland & Fullerton but rather go up Mafoli, turn right at the Castle, pass the hometown, stay to the right at the stop sign everyone blows and turn into Estate Harmony in order to get them to our house.
Island driving is quite interesting and I'm glad to know that people from Chicago think we have it down pat :)