April 29th, 2022The last word – a crash course in road rules
A popular poet once wrote:
“Half of the people can be part right all of the time,
Some of the people can be all right part of the time,
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time,
I think Abraham Lincoln said that,
I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.
I said that.”
Full marks if you recognise Talkin’ World War III Blues, from the 1963 record The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
In the mid-1980s, before I’d discovered the marvellous Melbourne public transport system, I drove my car to work each day, from St Kilda to the Melbourne CBD. Along with hook turns and roundabouts, sitting in the wrong side of the car while on the wrong side of the road, I had to come to terms with Victorian concepts about motoring.
One morning, after a particularly stressful journey in to work, I arrived at the office and began to rant (readers of this fine publication are well accustomed to the meaning of that word, thank you, Mr Barnes).
It went something like this: Damned Australian drivers, you treat the posted speed as a minimum, you think tailgating is a competitive sport, and you think it’s required that you pass anyone who’s in front of you, regardless of traffic conditions!
One of my co-workers, Jamie, one of the finest, wisest people I’ve ever known, with a supremely dry sense of humour, listened to my outburst, looked me square in the eyes, and said: “Now you know the rules, what’s the problem?”
It was a simple yet eloquent response, one I’ve since applied to many situations.
As for knowing the rules, one of the trickiest parts about driving in and around Melbourne for me was managing what we called The Amazing Disappearing Lanes.
In almost every suburb around the city, we’d be going along fine, two lanes in each direction, when, with almost no warning, the road narrowed to two lanes through a neighbourhood shopping strip, forcing everyone in the disappearing lane to merge into the remaining lane. It seemed to us that the merging part of the situation was one in which not many Victorians excelled. Or else we didn’t know the rules.
As former California drivers, we’d concocted a fanciful mythology about well-trained, courteous drivers who obeyed the rules of the road and looked out for one another. Now, after a few years being back among our compatriots, I can report that Californians share every fault displayed by our Victorian friends – plus a few extras.
There is one road practice that our new neighbours have forgotten. On almost all cars is a mysterious lever on the column near the steering wheel. If you push this lever down or lift it up a clicking sound begins and a little light flashes on the instrument panel, sometimes to the right and sometimes to the left of the speedometer. Most Californian drivers find this noise and the blinking lights extremely annoying so they avoid touching that lever.
A few American traffic engineers have been experimenting with roundabouts, and there is one that’s been built recently on a road we sometimes take. The most recent time, I came up to it and there was just one other car in sight, in front of me, whose driver was utterly flummoxed by the concept. I don’t know how long he’d been parked there, trying to work out how to proceed, but my arrival spurred him into action and he slowly drove into the circle and out one of the exits.
I shudder to think what might happen if they introduce hook turns here. But, now you know the rules …
After many happy years living in Victoria and working at The Age, former Wheatsheaf resident Jeff Glorfeld, and his wife Carol, went back to California, the land of his birth, where in the past four years he has survived bushfires, snowstorms and drought. And Trump. And Covid. The cicadas and locusts didn’t arrive. Well, not yet.