Bad Driver Land


November 19, 2010 by Becky

We were driving around Chicago because we attended our son’s Navy boot camp graduation. Also because we so clearly have a deep-seated death wish.

The fascinating thing about driving along Cicero Avenue in Chicago is the humanity you see. Moms pushing strollers, drunks staggering in the middle of the street, day laborers on many corners, slackers on others, people waiting for buses, people with briefcases, people with nowhere to go.

I’m pretty sure I saw a hooker grandma, too.

The poverty in this area was apparent. Buildings that had burned long ago haven’t been repaired or rebuilt.  Liquor stores on most corners. Bodegas only advertising liquor and diapers. Tons of check cashing stores. But I didn’t see one bank.

Thought-provoking and sad to these suburban eyes.

But the roads! Oy vey … and the drivers!

I’m going to apologize right up front to all you Chicagoans, but OMG … I’m not sure I can do the awfulness of driving in Chicago justice! I fear my powers of description aren’t up to the heights required.

Let’s address four areas.

1. There are no left turn pockets so traffic, much like raw sewage, backs up. The fun here, of course, is how it forces these bad drivers (and by ‘bad drivers’ I mean everyone) to swerve — at full speed and at the last possible second — into the right lane with no notice.

2. Parking is allowed on the street. On the busy, busy street. You’ll be traveling along until suddenly you come upon one of these parked cars or, much more exciting, someone else comes upon one so swerves — at full speed and at the last possible second — into your lane while they go around it. So, Chicago traffic engineers, listen up … you CAN get three lanes in the space of two along Cicero Avenue. I know. It seems like it goes against some law I should have learned in school, but there it is.

3. Potholes and manhole covers. We rented an itsy bitsy Hyundai and about every few hundred feet, I expected to be swallowed up in pothole and dropped to China. (I swear I smelled kung pao chicken and potstickers.) When I wasn’t worried about dropping in on the Forbidden City, I truly believed we’d be high-centered on a manhole cover like a horrified tortoise atop a Doric column. Luckily we learned to swerve — at full speed and at the last possible second, otherwise we’d still be there. I picture kindly folks sending up sandwiches and thermoses of coffee in a bucket we’d rig with pulleys. In May, children would tie colorful ribbons and dance around our column, weaving it festively. Most drivers would swerve around us, but eventually, some poor tourist who hasn’t yet learned the importance of swerving in Chicago would knock us from our perch.

4. Traffic lights were out at major intersections. Not once, not twice … FOUR times! In the space of a few miles! And I’ll let you guess which drivers from which city didn’t know how to deal with it. Okay, maybe that’s not fair. They probably didn’t even realize the lights were out, what with all the swerving and speeding and such.

So, there it is. My review of driving near Midway Airport. I can’t wait to go back in a snowstorm!

Was I too harsh? Have you driven along Cicero Avenue in Chicago? Do you consider yourself a good driver? Do you swerve around cars at full speed and at the last possible second?


9 thoughts on “Bad Driver Land

  1. Tracy says:

    Ah, tourists. Let me just start by saying that you based this all on a completely false assumption. You stated that you were driving around Chicago. You weren’t. If you haven’t been north of, say, 18th street – you haven’t actually BEEN to Chicago. You were in a whole different place.

    You were on the South Side. The magical land of Da. Da Bears. Da Bulls. Da Sox. Where life is simple. Turn lanes complicate things – and why the hell were you driving behind cars that were going to turn? It’s that lack of responsibility for personal actions that makes the South Siders want the rest of us to stay north. And by “stay” I mean live -because on the South Side you don’t live anywhere, you stay – up by your sister or off of 110th street. On the North Side we live. At actual addresses. Our residences do not, however, have front rooms (pronounced, incidentally, fronchroom. Say it three times fast and you will start to hear it. No, fast.)

    And as for parking on the street? You want to park where you need to be, not off in some fancy pay lot. Free parking is a right. Why are you driving behind a car that is about to park, anyway? Besides, they don’t want three lanes – then everybody will be meandering about with no sense of purpose. If you have the opportunity to drive without gunning it for the only possible opening that doesn’t end in certain death, you are going to moseying all over getting in the way of people who have things to do – like get to work, and I am talking at a REAL job, not some fancy arty theater thing like they have north. Jobs that keep this great city working. You have heard of the city that works, right? Work that lane.

    Oh, and POTHOLES? It is NOVEMBER. There are no potholes yet. Wait until 47 freeze/thaw cycles over the next 6 or 7 months. Then you will see POTHOLES. Then you will be weeping and begging for the forbidden city – from the alternate universe you find yourself in. I do sympathize with you on the non working stoplights – perhaps the driving technique required here is not covered in suburbia. Here is what you do. Wait for your turn at the light. If the driver in front of you hesitates in any way lean on the horn. Keep leaning on the horn until they do something. If you freak them out and they don’t move, make obscene gestures. If they don’t notice you curse loudly and gesticulate wildly until they do. Yes, that is what those people behind you were doing. Then, when it is your turn, go as aggressively as possible. If there is a question about whether it is your turn or the turn for the cross traffic, go. As aggressively as possible. If you think that the oncoming guy might try to turn left in front of you go. Even more aggressively. See? Easy. Except in that wussy car you rented. You are like prey in that car. Rent a real car next time.

    OK, does that clear things up? Oh, but really – you should come to Chicago some time if you get the chance. It is lovely here.

  2. beckycc says:

    Tracy … you are absolutely my new favorite person! You had me at “why the hell were you driving behind cars that were going to turn? It’s that lack of responsibility for personal actions …”

    I will concede that we rented a ridiclously wussy car, but our credit card was also feeling wussy right then and wouldn’t agree to anything nicer.

    And I’m sorry I was unclear about how much we drove around Chicago. We drove back and forth from Midway Airport to Waukegan (where the naval base is) several times using several different routes. (One that included SuperDawg, which made me happy.)

    We rode the El too, but never hit one pothole.

    Btw, did you mean to invite me for Thanksgiving dinner? Cuz I’m on my way ….

  3. Tracy says:

    Becky – I am digging on you quite a bit, too! I guess you have been around Chicago – but not quite sure you have seen the best of it yet! And coming into O’Hare will probably give you a better chance of that – and be a LOT closer to Waukegan – but perhaps not as cheap – I do so HATE when my credit card is feeling wussy! And actually, I have to give you credit – you can’t be too wussy if you feel like you made it through an el ride without hitting any potholes – don’t know that I ever have!

    As far as Thanksgiving – stop on by – the Chicago way is to have enough food for at LEAST double the amount of people you anticipate will be in attendance. We are not so much the city of big shoulders as big – everything.

    And Superdawg – you get big points for finding that…..

  4. Gail says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Whew. Sometimes I feel so lonely in the my own private world of turn signals and observing right-of-way courtesies. I am sure I was just not meant to drive in Chicago (or Baltimore, or Baton Rouge…). There are some lovely places in the larger world where people respect the rules of the road, but the place I’ve chosen for home (North Kenwood. Yes, the same neighborhood as Obama) is not one of them. North siders are WAY more cognizant and aware, but it’s all relative. Didn’t know it until I came south. So Becky, thank you for visiting our fair city and for driving nicely. People have to see it modeled before they can perform it, right? Sigh.

  5. beckycc says:

    Gail … let’s you and me take a road trip to Tracy’s house. I’m sure we’d both be welcomed with Superdawgs and deep-dish pizza. You can handle the turn signals and right-of-way courtesies and I will be in charge of the cursing and swerving. You in?

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