Texas' cities are relatively free of traffic jams, speaking from a New York and LA road of mind. Dallas residents complain about their morning commute being bumper to bumper, but they count stop lights. In the time it takes most Dallasites to drive to work an LA commuter might exit a jammed freeway. Texans complain about their freeway traffic when the flow drops below 50 mph. I entertain LA friends by taking them on a picnic to a freeway overpass where we watch rush hour traffic move. Californians find the hum of cars spiritual.
Driving down Dallas' most congested, Central Expressway, I-75, you'll have the chance to observe how Texans drive. The freeway on ramps are only a few yards in length, and drivers must accelerate from zero to 60 mph in a matter of feet. The locals have adapted to the road designer's challenge by driving on, closing their eyes and hoping for the best. If traffic is too slow for a driver or if he misses an exit, you might see him jump the curb and drive over the grassy median onto the service road while hooting a "Yee-haw!" Who needs off ramps?
Texans are unique because they always know their way without using maps, street signs or building numbers. Signs are made as an afterthought. Driving south one day I passed a sign that read, "If you need I-67, it was exit you passed." If missing signs don't thrill you, take a city loop. When I first visited Dallas I didn't realize I was driving around the city on the I-635 loop for five hours because I was accustomed to freeways that took me somewhere.
In Texas, they don't use fast lanes. The far left lane is the most scenic, and traffic moves accordingly. Texans don't bother with "no parking" zones. As long as their car's flashers are on, they park anywhere they want.
To understand why driving in Texas can be entertaining, take a driving test. When I moved here I was given the choice of a written or video driving test. I chose the video version, picturing some Nintendoc figure guiding my way across the Texas prairie. The video test flashes 10 pictures of potential traffic problems and provides three answers to choose from. If you guess wrong a bell sounds and usually draws giggles from people in the room.
Question eight shows a picture of a cow standing in the road. I chose the answer that said to drive around the cow. This answer was wrong. The correct answer was to honk, yell and scream until the animal was safely off the road.
Texans buy big American cars equipped with cruise control, and they won't bond with their cars. If hail clobbered a car or sun oxidizes the paint, the Texan gives his car its independence then the car can add oil and water, change its battery and tires on its own. Most of Texas' roads are bumpy, and you can't detect improper wheel alignment. Texans wait until the tread wears slick and unravels on the freeway before deciding what to do.
As long as the front fender enters an intersection on a yellow light, the rest of the car must follow. Weekend gardeners take advantage of a fast moving freeway to blow out the back end of their pick-up truck. They say this is all right if they don't look back.
Californians treat their cars like a member of the family. They'll wash, wax and manicure their car every weekend, and call friends to go for a ride with the roof down. Texans brag about how much dirt has collected under the wheel hubs. They think open air is the AC turned up, and they cover dents with bumper stickers.
Reading bumpers can pass the time on Texas' highways. Drivers will display sayings they are too afraid to speak in public. Campaign and advertising stickers show: "Save the Republicans," "Let us secede," and "I didn't vote," as popular slogans.
Texans measure distance in minutes instead of miles. When asking for directions, everywhere you need to go is five minutes away. Whether you driving to church, school, the grocery store or work they'll tell you five minutes. For years I thought Houston was five minutes from Dallas.
When roads freeze, Texans don't rely on anyone to tell them not to drive. If the television crew for the morning news can drive around to film the accidents, "Ya'll can drive five minutes to work."
When I lived there, my my place isn't difficult to find. I'd say, "Take Northwest Highway south to the eastern split by the lake. Drive west on East Mockingbird Lane, even though it heads south; turn right at the third light and look for a neon sign on the North." My apartment was in the white building behind the sign, five minutes from downtown. Never did find the address.