It’s only taken 3 and a half months, but I finally got around to driving in Texas. It’s not so scary. Even on Halloween.
Last week, my brother Simon was visiting, which was great fun. Lots of chilling out over beer and sports. Sadly, all things come to an end, and he had to fly back to Australia on Thursday. Which meant getting him to the airport somehow. Now public transport in Dallas isn’t as bad as a lot of people make out, it’s perfectly possible to get to most places, assuming you have two hours free and like walking a lot and waiting around on platforms. But the major airport in Dallas is not connected to the light rail system at all, meaning it’s a taxi or a lift by car.
To make matters more complicated, my brother decided it would be cool to visit Cowboys Stadium, which is even less connected to public transport. Therefore, the only option was to hire a car and drive him out there. Despite having lived in Germany, I had never driven a car on the right hand side of the road, so it was going to be interesting to see how it played out.
So on Thursday morning, we headed over to the nearest hire car place (being Halloween, all the staff were in costume – they take it very seriously here), and picked up a car to drive around for the day, a poky Hyundai Accent. Now I don’t know about the USA, but in Australia, the only people who drive Hyundai Accents are pensioners or teenagers (in the latter case, with awkward body kits and oversized exhausts bolted on), so it was a bit embarrassing. At least it was red.
Sadly, no amount of red was going to make this car go faster, it sounded as if an ailing corgi had been put under the hood in place of an engine. All asthmatic growl and no grunt. No acceleration, no power, both of which I was told were strict necessities in the battlefield that is the Dallas freeway system. And the automatic transmission was geared so that the changeover point coincided exactly with the speed limits on American roads, so it was constantly lurching from gear to gear if you tried to stay on the limit.
However, we were stuck with it, so after driving up to SMU for classes and then back home, it was time to take Simon out to the stadium so he could take a tour of the place before heading to the airport.
In truth, the whole experience was pretty smooth, despite what everyone had warned. There were some key differences though that took getting used to:
Driving and Sitting on the Right (Wrong) Hand Side: Thankfully, riding a bicycle to and from university every day had made adapting to this a lot easier, and maybe the fear of turning into oncoming traffic helped, but it still felt weird. More than once I instinctively reached for the centre console with my left hand and hit the door. Thank goodness it was an automatic; a manual would have been too much to handle.
Indicator Stalks: This was the most embarrassing one. Australian cars (and English and Japanese cars) have the indicator stalk on the right hand side of the steering wheel, and the wiper stalk on the left. Every time I got into the car, the first time I would go to indicate, on came the wipers. Simon found it very amusing.
Left on Red: Admittedly I had already discovered this one from riding, but being able to turn left on a red light after stopping isn’t common in Australia. It’s great if you are driving, but scary if you are a pedestrian.
Four-way Stop Signs: How this doesn’t lead to gridlock is beyond me. Every entrance to the intersection has a stop sign, and the system is essentially “first-in, first-out”. Drivers will often race to be the first one at the intersection, but not to get through first. Rather, they want the honour of letting through the other person and being all mannerful. It constantly reminded me of this:
Supermassive Freeways: There are freeway junctions in the DFW metroplex that are higher than most of the buildings in Canberra. Multi-multi-multi-level. And most of the freeways are at least three lanes wide per side, and yet there’s still…
Supermassive Traffic: I made sure to avoid the absolute worst of Dallas’ peak hour, but even at 4 in the afternoon, the freeways were starting to become crowded and slow. But it meant a good chance for me to become acquainted with the wonders of…
Satellite Radio: My God, it’s full of channels. Which I didn’t explore because I found one called “Classic Vinyl” that nothing but 1970’s rock. Why change?
Fuel: There’s a lot of complaint about fuel prices here in the USA. Stop it. The fuel is about half the price of what I paid in Australia. And despite my criticisms of the little Hyundai, it was to its credit exceptionally fuel efficient. Barely had to refill the tank before returning it.
So I survived driving in the USA. Honestly, it had been made out to me to be this scary nightmare, but in truth, it wasn’t so bad. It was even kind of fun. But next time I’m getting something a bit more powerful. And staying away from the parking lot that is Interstate 35.
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