Sunday, August 15, 2010

red means go

it's hard to feel like i'm really a new yorker when i haven't lived there in nearly a month now.  from defending the dissertation to visiting my family to visiting J's family, i was home for a mere half a day in the last few weeks.  which of course leaves me with two choices, should i feel like writing today.  1. make something up.  but i just promised you that you can trust everything i ever say because i'm an expert now.  i'd hate to start of on the wrong foot by misleading you.  2. exploit older blog fodder until i return this coming week.

so today's topic is driving in the city.  i'm sure you are all aware that different states have different driving laws.  responsible citizens are apparently expected to investigate differences in state driving laws before crossing state borders.  however, because i don't know that many responsible citizens who actually regularly indulge this expectation (probably because in the vast majority of cases, the laws aren't too different), i'l save you all some trouble in case you should decide to take a road trip to my fine city.  from what i've observed, the laws within the city borders are drastically different than anywhere else i have driven.  so today, i have prepared a little primer on interpreting traffic lights.

perhaps the most confusing aspect of driving in new york is figuring out what those pesky traffic lights are trying to tell you.  people everywhere appear to disagree about whether a yellow light is a cue to suddenly slam one's foot down on the brake or the gas pedal.  in the city, err on the side of the gas pedal.  this is easy enough.

when you approach a clogged intersection, you may, at first, attempt to patiently wait your turn.  when you find that you are sitting through cycle after cycle of changing lights and your vehicle has not moved more than the inch or few when you impatiently crept up on the bumper in front of you, you may begin to feel agitated.  this is normal.  it is merely a symptom of your lack of familiarity with city driving customs.  after becoming agitated, you may soon catch on  to the fact that the other drivers aren't playing by the rules - but this is only if you expected everyone to play by the same rules that you learned at home.  specifically, that green means go and red means stop.  i know it must sound painfully incongruent with everything you know about the world, but in the city, red means go and green means go if you can weasel your way into the moving traffic.

you see, when your light is green, the intersection will be full of street cholesterol (the cars that are perpendicular to yours, attempting to  cross or turn onto your street).  if you can maneuver your car into the gridlock, go ahead and do it.  just inch your car closer and closer to the other side of the intersection, even if you get tangled up in the cross traffic.  things sort themselves out.  if you can't move during the green light, pass the time by honking your horn.  but before you do, look around and try to guess how wealthy the neighborhood is.  if the people on the sidewalks are well dressed and the buildings look fancy, you are probably going to encounter a "no honking" sign because the people who live here have not yet developed the immunity to noise pollution that has been cultivated in less affluent areas.  you may be fined if you oppress them.

when the light turns yellow, drivers suddenly realize just how frustrated they are because the gridlock has prevented them from moving when they believed they were entitled to move.  thus, yellow means accelerate further into the gridlock to ensure you don't get cheated again.  so begin to accelerate on yellow, and then when the light is red, keep creeping toward the direction you want to go because now that you and all of your similarly directed friends have moved into the intersection on a yellow light, you are all blocking the cross traffic, and they are getting agitated.  try to be considerate and keep moving out of their way during the red light.

wash, rinse, repeat.

after 4-5 cycles, what will emerge is a pattern in which the "go on green, stop on red" pattern has been completely reversed.  this system works best when every driver plays by the appropriate nyc driving rules.  the system will break down into chaos and cause delays for everyone if anyone attempts to selfishly drive by rules their own egocentric rules (e.g., braking on red).