Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Other Car Is One I'm Not Driving

It's been almost three years since I moved to DC.  While one of my favorite things about living in the city is the public transportation, it's definitely changed my driving, for better and for worse. Well, probably just worse.

See, parking and traffic are a big hassle here, so unless we're going across town during off-peak driving hours, we usually metro, bus, bike, or cab.  The times that we do drive, Jason and I are usually together, so he does the driving.  It started out that way since our car was his before we got married, and now I hedge my bets and let him drive since statistically speaking, I fall into one of the worst-driver categories as an under 30 Asian woman.  It's not just statistics though, because really, after years of infrequent driving, I am now a bad driver.  Ok, I have always been a bad driver.  More specifically, I was really bad when I started driving, then got better, and now am less better.

Let me just take you through a typical driving experience for me.  So first of all, I have to remember where on the street or alley we parked.  Second, our car has an alarm system.  However, only Jason has the right key fob to deactivate it.  My key doesn't, so I have no way to get into the car without setting off the alarm.  Once the door opens and the alarm starts there is some magical series of things that if you do them within five seconds will deactivate the alarm.  Whenever I have to do this, I always feel like some kind of spy or thief who has to perform a perfectly choreographed dance in order to avoid the cameras or lasers and steal the Crown Jewels.  Like Usain Bolt positioning himself on the starting block, I prepare for a mad dash as I streamline the key in one hand and the many bags I always carry in the other, mentally steeling myself against the awfully loud alarm I'm about to set off.  I open the door, which sets off the alarm, and jump in while simultaneously dropping my bags on the passenger seat.  I try to remember the secret handshake equivalent of buttons I'm supposed to push and then the alarm goes off and I'm on my way.  This doesn't always work though, especially in the dark when I can't see or when receiving instructions over the phone on how to deactivate the alarm while it's already going off.  When this happens, I have to sit in the car through the entire alarm cycle, while waving and apologetically smiling at staring passersby hoping it's enough to indicate "I am not actually stealing this car, but I also don't know how to make it stop."  Then my five seconds start again, and this cycle continues until I get the car secret handshake right.

Nerves frazzled, as if starting the car wasn't enough of an ordeal, I then actually have to drive.  One-way streets, construction, traffic, tourists and horrendously marked roads are things I've gotten used to as a passenger.  Also as a passenger, I have forgotten the actual mechanics of driving.  I found myself the other day making extremely wide turns.  (Oh the in the city means I'd be really good at driving in the country.)  Other hazards I've learned to look out for are cards stopped in the middle of the lane, "no turn on red" signs and more importantly the ticket cameras that go along with them, and bikers.  (I'm more sympathetic to bikers though, since nothing drives me more crazy when I'm biking than a car in the bike lane.  I usually give those car a little "love pat.")

I think one good thing that has come out of this is that I've learned to drive more defensively (ie: with one hand on the horn).  I used to never ever honk at anyone (actually the horn didn't work on my old car, so some of that wasn't by choice), but now, I am ready to push that horn like it's my job.  You know what's it like to have the perfect comeback to someone's snark, but you only think of it 5 minutes after the moment passed?  It was like that for me with driving.  Hey wait... you almost changed lanes into me five minutes ago.  I forgot to honk then, but do it now and you've got a serious honk coming your way, bucko.  But now I'm ready with an anticipatory hand on that horn.  It's not that I'm mad, I just try to be ready for the distracted or unsafe drivers and pedestrians.  If someone is not following traffic rules, endangering me with their driving, or trying to purposefully cut me off, the honk-police (me) is ready to warn with a honk that usually corresponds in volume and duration to the recklessness of the offense.  I see it as my version of a citizen's arrest.

After dealing with all that, I finally arrive at my destination and therefore have to park.  This might be the gardest part yet.  Depending what neighborhood you are in, the time of day, time of year, and phase of the moon, just finding an open spot can be tricky.  You know you're officially a DC driver when it's second nature to do U-turns in the middle of the street, especially when it's because there's an open parking spot on the other side of the street.  After circling enough that I find an open spot, then it's time to parallel park.  Lucky for me, I got pretty good at parallel parking in the Costco parking lot, which is pretty much like driving in the district.  (I am also now realizing I used to go to Costco with an unusually high frequency, especially for a single person.)  So I either nail it the first time or spend ten minutes going back and forth and moving towards to curb an inch at a time with an 11-point back and forth.  And then the final challenge: trying to figure out based on the 3 contradictory signs posted if you are going to be able to remain parked without a ticket.  We just got towed last week, for parking in the wrong spot.  It's funny because despite the complicated parking rules, the three years that we've been in DC is the longest no-tow streak Jason and I have had since dating.  So obviously, when it comes to getting parking, we still have some learning to do.

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