A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Monday, May 01, 2006

When in Rome Burlington

This post will be the first of two reflections on moving.

Soon I'll be moving from Burlington NC (home of Burlington Coat Factory and Gold Toe socks) to Bowling Green, OH. I couldn't be more excited, but I'm worried about my driving. See, over the last three years, I've lived in a town where there are no rules, exactly, for driving. They're more like suggestions. You know: "if it's not too much trouble, you might want to consider keeping your car right of the center line--but no biggie. We know sometimes you just need the whole road." Since moving here, Lee and I have (in most cases, many times) seen drivers:
  • turn left from the right lane
  • turn right from the left lane
  • wait in the right lane until traffic clears so they can get into the left lane to turn left
  • back up on the interstate to take an exit
  • back up on a busy four-lane road to turn into a business (and then still just drive onto the curb and into the grass between the street and the parking lot)
  • stop in the middle of the road to hand a package from one DHL van to another
  • park in the entry drive of the TJ Maxx lot because it's easier than finding a spot
  • pull up to an intersection, wait until we were upon said intersection, then pull out in front of us (and proceed to go 15 mph below the posted limit)
  • come to a complete stop to turn right from a busy street

There are more, too, but my neural net can only process so much at once.

At first, when we arrived, I was inclined to see such vehicular atrocities as validating my stereotypical beliefs about the South and southerners. And, while one or two of those beliefs have survived (I have honestly never lived in a place where you call a plumber or a landscaper and they want to arrange a time for you to call them so you can set up a time for them to come to your home!). Now, though, I see it as a symptom of contemporary life in the semi-rural South. Lots of the drivers in Burlington are from the countryside, and many of the rest of them are old enough to remember when Burlington itself wasn't terribly unlike the countryside--at least in terms of traffic volume. Most of the offenses I list above wouldn't be offenses in areas where there just weren't that many cars (when you're the only one for a mile in any direction, who cares whether you stop in the middle of the road until you're one hundred percent sure whether you need to turn or not?) That is, the driving in Burlington is symptomatic of a rural mindset in an increasingly urban landscape.

While I am no doubt grateful for such rich material to support my penchant for armchair ethnography, I cannot say I will miss driving here. Even more to the point, I am just plain worried that I have too fully been there, to borrow a term from Geertz --that I have come to see the culture of driving in Burlington enough as a local that, when I do get to Bowling Green, I'm going to find myself parking on the left side of Main St. because, well, there was the space, and why let a little thing like "normal flow of traffic" stand in my way? You laugh (maybe), but I've pulled similar moves here. I don't know--maybe I need to move from armchair anthropology to armchair sociology--but there's just this sense that, if nobody is going to look at me funny when I do it, then why not? (It's like in Hamlet, when the gravedigger says nobody will notice Hamlet's madness in England because there everybody is as crazy as he is.) Or, to put it more succinctly: When in Rome . . . .

Oh, and just to raise the stakes a little: the first vehicle I will be driving out of town is a 26 foot Penske moving van. Try backing that baby up on the interstate. But I'll save that for the next post.

(Edited to add pander: what is the craziest thing you've seen or done on the road where you live?)


At 2:38 PM, Blogger metaspencer said...

Vehicular atrocities validating stereotypical beliefs!

(love that!)

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Lance said...

And I won't even get into the automotive malfeasance I've witnessed!

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Jonathan Benda said...

A: All of the above, plus hundreds of 50-150 c.c. motorcyles scooting around on either side of the car like a swarm of locusts. (I live in Taiwan...)


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