I’ve lived in Wisconsin for six months now, and when I had to drive to Chicago for an errand downtown, I found myself smiling. For how much shade Wisconsinites throw at Illinoians, I enjoy driving with them. These are my people.
Growing up in Orange County, Southern California, I feel most comfortable when I’m on a freeway with five lanes of traffic. In these situations, I don’t have to worry about the speed limit because technically you’re supposed to go with the flow of traffic. Of course, that doesn’t mean all the cars in the left three lanes should go exactly the same speed — that’s annoying — that’s when you have to pass people in whatever lane you can. It’s fun to zig-zag around different cars and try to get ahead of them all.
On your left…
Driving to Chicago, I was surrounded by people going 15 mph over the posted speed limit. They were passing me on all sides until I caught on and rememberd my So Cal driving skills. Okay, game on. Let’s race.
Driving in Wisconsin, passing another car feels so personal. I often find myself on two-lane highways where people only drive in the left lane to pass someone in the right lane. I am still not used to this situation. It feels like it brings more drama to the simple maneuver of passing another car.
“The only reason I’m in this lane is to PASS YOU. It’s your fault I’m over here on the left. I wouldn’t have to come over here if you weren’t in my way…”
I would like to believe I’ve gotten better at “lane etiquette” and drive in the right (pun) lane most of the time. I’ve also gotten better at knowing when to get over so someone can pass me on the left. But just in case my driving seems un-Wisconsin-ly, I decided to advertise my background with my plates:
[Driver I just passed on the right, going 85 mph on an open, un-crowded two-lane highway]: “Ooooh, okay that explains it.”
Where’d My Bumps Go?
There are two things I took for granted in So Cal which I miss dearly up here in Wisconsin. The first thing is how in So Cal there are little reflector bumps that accompany the lines separating the lanes. In the dark, when it’s harder to see the painted barriers, the reflector bumps really help the driver stay in their own lane.
At night in Wisconsin, unless I have my brights on (which is another thing we need to talk about), I have a hard time seeing the lines. And it’s not like there are a plethora of street lights or businesses lit up to help me see. In So Cal, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve needed to use my brights. But now I use my brights to go to the grocery store on Sunday nights.
I supposed the lack of bumps on the roads has to do with the snow plows that clear those roads after a snow fall. I supposed those bumps would be removed by the snow plows. BUT STILL! I MISS my bumps!
The second thing I miss about driving in So Cal are the Call Boxes.
Designed for stranded motorists in need of help, call boxes became a roadside fixture on Los Angeles freeways in the early ’60s. An extra dollar tacked onto vehicle registration fees pays for the call boxes, tow trucks and dispatchers – all part of a motorist safety program known as Service Authority for Freeways and Expressways, or SAFE. – “In the age of cellphones, how much do we need highway call boxes?” –The Orange County Register
These boxes date back to the time before cell phones were in every car, so I couldn’t even tell you if these phones are still operational, or if they require any quarters to operate, or if there’d be an operator on the other end. But even if you had a cellphone, these boxes are useful as landmarks.
“…Valdez, the CHP dispatch supervisor, said stranded motorists who do have mobile phones are giving the call boxes a second life – as navigational landmarks.
“People call and say, ‘I’m on the 5 freeway by call box 87.’”
When you’re on a freeway in So Cal, you can tell which freeway you’re on by the first number on the Call Box. If you’ve taken the wrong overpass or exit, (as I have done at least 5 times), you know which freeway you accidentally ended up on by looking at the number before the dash.
Greenery and Scenery
I like how in some states there is very little “visual pollution” in terms of billboards. This makes it easier to focus on the beautiful scenery around you. And by “beautiful” I am including the mountainous ranges of Pennsylvania, the stunning rugged landscapes of Utah and Colorado, and also the large empty fields of nothingness through Iowa and South Dakota. Even the emptiness is beautiful to me because it’s a nice change from the signs and buildings I’m used to driving past on So Cal freeways.
Of course one of my favorite drives in the world is taking The 5 from Orange County down to UC San Diego. Once you reach San Clemente, you can see the ocean for the rest of the way!