The first time I took my driver's test, I aced it in four inches of snow. Coming from a small town of about 20,000 people, aggressive driving tactics were not exactly necessary to move from point A to point B during my high school career.
Where or not this is sufficient excuse for my grandmotheresque driving capacity is another topic entirely, but it does provide me a distinct perspective from which to observe the busyness that is Texas driving and Austin driving in particular.
I certainly don’t mean to paint this article as criticism; the frontage roads, tiny one-way streets, weird two-story interstate, and incessant reconstruction don’t exactly lend this beautiful city a lot of flexibility in terms of traffic.
It's easy to see that the habits of Austin cars and trucks are the products of their environment, one which constantly readjusts itself to support the newest flock of immigrants inspired by Austin’s bi-weekly media status of “hottest new city for entrepreneurship” and “best city to walk your dog and fly a homemade kite at the same time”.
That being said, the biggest noticeable difference for me (and anyone I would expect to move here) would be the offensive nature of every vehicle. When I was enrolled (was cheating) in driver’s ed., the first thing we were taught was to drive defensively. You’re in a giant piece of metal competing against other giant pieces of metal for space, so it makes sense to drive with fear.
But Texas drivers intrigue me because some unseen force informs them of a life without fear, a life where “yellow” doesn’t mean” slow down” but rather “speed up”, usually followed by that weird thing that all my college friends do here where they smack their hands on the dashboard and the ceiling to alleviate guilt.
Other times, I’ve been waiting to turn left on a two way street only to have the car behind me squeeze through the bike lane out of impatience, or been honked at because I was driving 65 on a 65. For a while, I thought the rules in Texas were different.
No, they’re not. And that’s the brilliance of it: nobody has time for that crap! We all have places to go and people to meet and things to see! This is Texas, and everybody is busy building the best economy in the nation. We’re good at it, and as long as we don’t run stop signs or rear-end anyone, the police are sympathetic and unquestioning. I’m becoming more accustomed to life in the city and life in Austin in general, and my old habits of idling in the fast lane are drifting away.
But there’s still one weird thing that sticks out in my mind. Almost every time I yield in a turning lane or parking lot to merge left, traffic trickles to a halt to allow me to pass. It’s an out-of-the-blue, unrequitted generosity that is surprising for Texas, but maybe not so surprising for a city that invests so much faith in the kindness of strangers. It’s awesome and I’m grateful every time the opportunity is presented.
Now, if everybody could just learn to drive in the snow….
Author's note: I think it should entertain the reader to know that the night after I wrote this article, I got into a minor car accident on the corner of Guadalupe and 22nd. Any reasonable person would take it as a sign not to write with such authority over a topic he clearly still in the process of mastering, but I just found it hilarious that I crashed my car right after I wrote an article about it. I guess that's real Austin driving for you: ironic.