June 21, 2011

Country Mouse in the Big City

I am not a "country" girl. Although I have lived my entire life below the Mason-Dixon line and do not call a major metropolis home, I was raised in a decent-sized city and am certainly more comfortable in an urban setting than a rural one. My step-brother used to make fun of me for being "citified" when he found out I'd never been camping and was less than friendly with bugs, spiders, and snakes. I am used to functioning in a world where the grocery store is no more than 10 minutes away, Starbucks is right around every corner, and you can rarely drive 50 feet without practically running over an oblivious pedestrian. I am familiar with the correct balance of neighborly kindness and insistent driving necessary to navigate the suburban terrain... or I thought I was until this weekend.
Saturday morning I drove with Dan's younger brother T up to our nation's lovely capital. I dropped T off at the hospital where my brother-in-law is making a slow but sure recovery, but only after being picked for a random car search upon entering the gates. If I hadn't been so unnerved by the stern security guard, I probably would have laughed at him when, after making us open every single door and compartment in my entire car (including the hood) and pointing us onto the sidewalk, he barely glance in the driver's side door, didn't even make it halfway around the car, looked me square in the eye, and said "Have a nice day" before turning and walking away. I was baffled but relieved, and more than a little ticked that he couldn't even stand there while we put the pieces of my car back together. Good start to the morning.
After this, I headed out to navigate Maryland traffic and meet my best friend for brunch. She had given me the exact address and guessed it should take me about 15 minutes to get there. 40 minutes later, I thought I had made it. I called her before feeding the meter, and as we described our locations I realized that there was no way I was in the right place. After cursing resetting my gps about 16 times, I made a second attempt and, 30 minutes later, found the restaurant. I parked, shoved 4 quarters into the meter, and pushed the start button... and nothing happened. I put in two more quarters (ever the optimist) and the thing still blinked back at me like an irreverent teenager. Slamming back into my car, I drove less than a block and swerved into the next available slot, glancing at the sign and saying a little prayer that my car wouldn't get towed while I ran to meet my poor friend who had been waiting for almost an hour (in a shocking and rare stroke of luck, it didn't).
Some of the blame for turning a 15 minute trip into a trying 60 minute misadventure rests squarely on the shoulders of my gps. While the annoying little voice inside that box tends to know where she's going, she most definitely did not pass the course in communications. Her directions are often woefully inadequate and sometimes seem to resemble a foreign language. With each wrong turn I took, she got increasingly flustered and at one point wanted to take me on a 6 mile detour to avoid the next traffic circle. So I'm not very good at those... touche, little gps.
But directional issues and broken parking meters aside, the real reason that such an easy trip became insanely frustrating and at times a little frightening was the other gazillion city drivers on the road with me. In the center of DC, apparently, all typical regulations, kindnesses, and ounces of common sense take a backseat to getting-where-you-are-going-as-fast-as-humanly-possible. Small gestures like turn signals, obeying the speed limit, letting other traffic merge, and allowing pedestrians to cross streets without threatening their lives are forgotten. Drivers act as if they are on a bumper car track, zooming in and out of tiny gaps, nudging the noses of their cars into the tailpipes of others, and relying heavily on the use of their horns to communicate both joy and frustration. Had I not been enclosed in thousands of pounds of steel, equipped with an airbag, and almost an hour late to my destination, I would have gone home and tried again some other time. So many times I considered pulling over and trying to recollect my nerves, especially as a few defeated tears clouded my vision. I've rarely felt so out of place, so unprepared, and so utterly incompetent.
Now let's be clear, rush hour in my hometown is no picnic on the roads. I have been cut off countless times and practically been run down by a rogue crazy once or twice. Thankfully, though, my own roads seem like efficient, safe, and kind places now that I've had a taste of Dupont Circle on a Saturday at noon. I do love DC (and all my friends who reside there), and to any of you out there who may call it home, I am eternally in awe of your ability to navigate through that mess every single day. You are braver than I... or maybe you're just used to it. One thing this escapade left me sure about though? As much as I enjoy visiting the "big city," I've discovered that I am very happy right here at home, where I can run along university streets and get from point A to point B without almost dying and park in parking lots. Well, that, and now I know how to get to 14th Street NW and V Street with significantly fewer issues. Maybe.

[Thanks to the genius behind The Oatmeal for capturing some of my feelings in comic form: enjoy the section on "cutting each other off."]



0 had something to say:

Post a Comment


Blog Template by YummyLolly.com