Chacos column: Roaring Fork Valley Driving 101 — East Coast style
I moved out west when I was 21 years old and never really looked back. I immediately fell in love with the lifestyle, the landscape and the friendly people. What I haven’t been able to accept, however, is their driving. Overall, Coloradans just don’t drive very well. Commuting in this part of the country requires tons of patience and schooling in self-control.
Some pretty impressive drivers emerge from the depths of rutted out, bumpy, constantly-in-construction sections of I-95. I learned my asphalt acumen driving up and down the East Coast and through intricate construction cone formations, road closures and highway signs pointing in all directions using maps that folded up like origami. I’m pretty sure we were all drift car racers, Indy 500 pit crew members, and Frogger arcade game champions in a past life.
A couple of fender benders occurred in my youth, a few speeding tickets were earned, one car engine was buried, and maybe I ran over a cone or two somewhere in Delaware. You develop a litany of timely vocabulary and have a pocketful of hand gestures if you were born into this highway hell. The sort of skill required to drive in what looks like permanent road rage is really a finely-tuned work of art. Mishaps and minor casualties are but trophies on the mantle.
Now I reside somewhere nestled between happiness and the road to ridiculousness. Out West, one must be equipped to take on all sorts of casual drivers and HOV confusion. You must always keep in mind your audience, like if you’re carpooling young passengers to school, perhaps a smile and a wave is more appropriate than emphatically giving the middle finger salute to the driver that just pulled out right in front of your car. That grandma that just almost caused you whiplash may just be your mother-in-law’s best friend.
But when I’m alone, commuting at the crack of dawn, and I’ve just dribbled a bit of coffee on my new shirt, all bets are off. My East Coast ruthlessness yearns to be free. And I let her fly high, dammit.
First, if you don’t drive through the yellow light before the sun is up, we’re going to have a problem. There’s not another car in sight in either direction, so please, for the love of all things holy, put the pedal to the metal and continue driving the same speed under the yellow light. Yellow does not mean brake at this hour of the day. It just means that a red light is coming soon. This is not the time nor the place to piss off the driver right behind you and stop abruptly at the yellow. Save those mind games for your midday cruisers, and please let the commuters drive like the wind.
Next, if you want to daydream to Steve Inskeep’s melodic voice on NPR, I implore you to keep it in the right lane. The right lane is the slower lane, and for the likes of a 1979 Chevy Impala. The left lane should be utilized for modern-day transport and getting down to brass tacks. Get it on or get it over.
I’ll admit, sometimes I’ve been known to camp out in the left lane and slow my speed as I’m engrossed in David Greene reporting on a heavy news story or when I’m singing loudly to Justin Bieber’s latest hit on the radio. But a tap of the car horn or a few flashes of the headlights from behind is a reminder that the left lane is the wrong lane for any type of lollygagging. I quickly move right because that is what you do for commuters needing to get to work on time. Remember, what you choose to do during other times of the day is generally fair game and probably a controversial topic for another article completely.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly though, is the driver that has zero sense of the world outside of their own car. I implore these drivers to please take a minute to survey the scene every once in a while. Look behind, look ahead, and yes, even look out the side window. Sometimes both lanes are simultaneously clogged by 45-mph drivers causing a frustrating pile-up in their wake. This is where I practice my anger-management techniques.
Recently, I was part of a scenario where two cars paced at least a dozen cars behind them for a mile or so. Car after car came up to ride their bumpers and honk wildly to highlight their transgression. Somehow each car squeezed past this duo and then sped up in front for added measure. When my turn approached, I was but momentarily flummoxed. I took a deep breath, cursed loudly, and quickly pretended I was crossing the George Washington Bridge into NYC. At rush hour.
Colorado and the surrounding states are filled with gorgeous mountain peaks, crystal blue lakes, cloudless skies and smooth, well-maintained roads. Everyone here seems to come equipped with a permanent smile on their face and is filled with a generous spirit. There is a peaceful calm that crops out of every picturesque corner, but damn the commute and the silly drivers here.
Before you know it, I just may find myself reluctantly becoming one of those public transporters carrying on happy conversation, knitting or just staring absent-mindedly out the bus window every morning on my way to work. I’m sure I’ll take note of the crazy single drivers that seem to be holding on to the last bit of East Coast in them.
I’ll laugh and cynically remember what fun I had saying, “Pick a lane a-hole, and feel free to use the blinkers that come standard on every vehicle!”
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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