Thursday, March 5, 2009

Driving in Minnesota

Everyone said that it would be difficult to drive on the right side of the road - after learning to do so on the left side. Now I realise that was the easiest part ! Just follow the other vehicles. Ofcourse at any turn, we might subconsiously move to the left side. But my rule is to keep chanting "right side" in the first few times.

Apart from driving on the right side, there are lot of other things to be learnt. Like the STOP sign for instance. Theoretically I thought, what a time waste ! I was used to the Bangalore habit of driving non-stop on a clear road, till we hit a jam.

But its not our fault. People density is more in Bangalore. With less elbow space, the traffic may look chaotic. But we do have some sanity in those chaos. And so everyone drives carefully. Atleast caring for the immediate neighbouring vehicles. (These explanations will be difficult impossible to absorb for the casulties that happen. But things happen everywhere)

But now I love the STOP sign. It is such a breather. No matter what, vehicle should come to zero at a STOP sign. And the first one to stop, goes ahead first.

And then the lane system. Stick to your lane. When the road curves, you curve. But do not move out of your lane, without giving indication. It is so smooth. Yet initially my jaws would literally drop on the floor, watching cars zip diagonally across the road, right in front of us. Inspite of the simplicity of this action, my heart is always in my mouth, while changing lanes on a busy road, if I need to take the next turn. And then add the "Left/Right lane must turn Left/Right" thing. I have missed turns, gone far ahead and come back so many times.

Every single time I go out, its an adventure. And I did have the baap of all adventures recently. I got lost. I took a road, which I knew by name. But I forgot that here roads can run for miles together. Forget road, 'Yonge street' (in Toronto) is nearly a 1000 mile long. Big mistake. Big lesson here.
  • Number one. Never go by name alone.
  • When you are lost, dont keep on driving non-stop in the hope of finding something familiar. Come to a stop in the emergency lane. And think.
  • Better still call & ASK. Asking for direction is always always helpful. Cliche I know, but I will tell you why.

    Me ? I kept on driving on that never ending road. Then I took some turn and it went into the mountains. Then I switched over to some highway, which sounded familiar. Only when I saw the neighbouring city name board, I thought now I have to stop, or I might cross over to Iowa. Plus my toddler needed to be picked up from school and my friend from a govt office. Both were stuck there thanks to my promise of being there in 30 minutes. So I stopped at the next Caribou Coffee, called my hubby, said I was lost but pick those 2 up first. And then I proceeded to have a nice cup of coffee :)

    After good 15-20 minutes, I asked the coffee shop attendent, which way to France Avenue ? He says, "Oh take this 62 East and France Avenue will be in another 5 miles." Twing, 5 miles ! Just 5 miles and I made my hubby come from so far ! Why didn't I ask before ! Bah. This is why - when in doubt, ask.

    I thought it's embarrassing to admit that I got lost. But someone I know said, "It happens all the time. I have lived here for 30 years. But I dont step out without my GPS." So there, GPS is the best friend of drivers out here.

    By the way, there is one good thing about getting lost. I finally stopped looking at the road, watching the lane lines & oncoming cars, and I could focus on each & every sign on the road. A major switch from Indian-driving-mode to the US one.

    Let me explain. After all the years of driving from a right-side seat (the Indian right-hand drive), it became an instinct to watch out for the road dividing lines on the right; and being close to them. Same thing happened when I started driving here in USA. So here I was, seated on a left side seat, steering the car closer to the line on my right. Which means the car is right on the line, in two lanes. And that's a damn dangerous thing to do ! Aww.

    Eventually I did get over it, after I realised it. But still, it had not seeped into my subconsious. I was still looking out for a car to come right on from the next turn. Or maybe for a dog to run across. When actually the most important thing to do is to look out for signs.

    I think they must have a 'Department of Road Signs' here. They are so many, so up-to-date and so detailed. Speed limits. Construction activity. Each and every road, street, lane & area. Which lane to take for which place. Everything is out there. You just need to read them.

    So there, a newbie Minnesota driver jotting her experiences in a long post.

    AfricaBleu said...

    This was a delightful glimpse into the other side, Prithi. After riding in rickshaws and taxis in Delhi, I was awestruck at how there were so few accidents, even though, to my untrained eye, it looked like everyone just sort of squeezed and pushed and honked and did what they wanted in traffic. (Because I'm used to those signs you talked about.) We have an American friend whose wife is from Delhi, and he drives there (and she does not). I was marveling at his skill one day, and he said, "Traffic here is like the river Ganges--you just flow along with it." So I am saluting you and your ability to just "go with the flow." And it was great to read how being used to one way can cause confusion on the other side, because I would certainly have gotten lost if I had tried to drive in India!

    Jani said...

    Since I have been through this in past, reading your post was like driving or getting lost on those highways again :)
    Keep up the adventures and keep us (readers) posted!

    Prithi Shetty said...

    Hey Becky, With a 100 different type of vehicles jostling for the same shrinking space, the dynamics of driving are, no doubt, totally different in India. I took it as a gaming adventure in Bangalore. And I had thought there would be none here. But oh no, there is a lot of fun in driving here too :)

    Hey Jani, :) sure ofcourse. Going round and round in highway & exit, sure that's one hell of an experience.

    Dewdrop said...

    :) Nice post... reminded me of my days when I was learning how to drive

    Dewdrop said...

    u've been tagged!!! :)

    Prithi Shetty said...

    Hey DewDrop, thanks for the tag. 25 things is a lot ! Will try to do it as soon as I can.

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