It’s Friday morning and you are driving down the city. Traffic is light and you take a left turn into a fairly empty street. Suddenly everything changes. Your car accelerates from 35 mph to 80 mph in a matter of seconds. You find yourself inside your favorite race car. The streets turn into race tracks.
You race to merge into the right lane. But the other speeding cars won’t let you. With every failed attempt, your urgency increases. You must merge before the road leads you to a different destination. You keep trying and make it just in time as the car ahead of you accelerates. You are still losing time. There are too many cars in this race. You have to get to the finish line without getting disqualified.
You step on the accelerator and inch closer to the car ahead of you. The car behind you changes lanes and tries to overtake you. You let him. You need to follow a different route and stay on track. And whatever happens, don’t get into an accident.
On the right side of the track, you see police cars and ambulances tending to the most recent crash. You shake your head – silly bad drivers, you think. Just then, the car in front of you slams their brakes with no warning. You find yourself dangerously close. Oh no! You frantically slam the brakes. You feel your heart skip a beat. You hear tires screeching and tense up for a collision. Just then the car ahead of you changes lanes allowing you to speed ahead. Everyone is still alive.
This is how I feel when we drive down US highways. It’s terrifying and the adrenaline rush is hard to ignore.
Driving in India is an entirely different game. Indian roads are considered to be so busy and chaotic that people say if you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere in the world. I kinda disagree. It definitely teaches you amazing tricks like honking your way forward, being fearless when there are no signs, parking in tiny spaces, driving through flooded streets – but it doesn’t prepare you for speeding cars following lanes.
When I started driving in the US, my biggest challenge was staying within lanes. Maybe it’s just me but lanes seemed more restrictive and narrower the faster I drove. I had a hard time avoiding curbs that, in my opinion, don’t need to jut into streets that much anyway. I was more stressed during those first few weeks of driving than I have been in my entire life. The effort that went into driving the vehicle seemed so pointless that I decided not to drive in the US at all. After about a year of struggles, I think driving in the US is actually quite easy and painless. As long as I stay clear of highways.
When I lived in Kolkata, as part of my job, I had the privilege of hosting visitors from different parts of the world. Whenever we would drive around the city, most visitors would pause all conversation, grab onto their seats and turn pale. After most car rides, the remarks would be the same – I was sure we were going to die or how is it possible to drive through those narrow lanes or I don’t have the courage to drive anything here. I wish I could tell them how I understand what they felt. No one really warns you about the terrors of driving when you move overseas. You learn to deal with it as time goes by. You learn to drive on the other side of the road.
|Driving in the Atlanta (and a few other US cities)||Driving in Kolkata (and a few other Indian cities)|
|You learn to read all the road signs without bumping into the car ahead of you or going off the road.||You learn to drive intuitively without most road signs.|
|You learn to stop honking and get used to quiet speeding traffic.||You learn to honk – to get your way, to vent frustration on that slow moving vehicle, to warn oncoming vehicles and people at minor intersections.|
|You learn to drive within restrictive lanes.||You learn to squeeze in between cars without scratching your car.|
|You learn to appreciate and follow the big red STOP sign.||You learn to drive alert and prepare for surprises.|
|You learn to appreciate parking spaces.||You learn to park in tiny spaces.|
|You learn to drive within speed limits.||Speed limits are higher than you can ever achieve. You learn to expect speed bumps and competing for space with 1000 other vehicles.|
|You (hopefully never have to get into an accident and) learn how to deal with insurance.||You learn to ignore accidents as long as the damage is within acceptable limits and no one is hurt. Insurance is not disturbed unless the local mechanic advises you to contact an authorized service center.|
|You learn to drive on the right side of the road with all the controls on the left side.||You learn to drive on the left side of the road with all the controls on the right side.|
|You wait for pedestrians to cross the road safely, even when they are ridiculously slow.||You learn to maneuver around pedestrians in situations similar to obstacle races.|
|You hate rush hour traffic!||You hate rush hour traffic!|
Drive safe today! And be extra alert on that highway!
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