DRIVING US CRAZY. I write about things Memphis, and there’s nothing more Memphis than the idiots on our roads. Our driving is like our unpredictable, even dangerous creativity, our shtick of doing old things in new ways and scaring people to death while we’re at it.
My father-in-law once backed his car a quarter mile down the interstate shoulder against traffic to get back to the exit ramp he missed. My mother-in-law used to keep time to the car radio by tapping on the gas pedal, shaking down the road like Elvis on Ed Sullivan.
These are the people that taught my wife how to drive.
Long before cell phones or texting there was the distracting world inside my mother’s head. In there, the colors in the trees or the shapes in the clouds were far more interesting than the road in front of her. That’s how she drove into a ditch off Kirby with me riding shotgun. We were fine. The car not so much.
She was taking me out for a driving lesson at the time.
Friend Alan had parked his car on the side of the Mallory exit ramp – stupid in of itself – while he harvested errant golf balls from the interstate side of the Riverside golf course fence when a semi blew by and took that ramp far too fast. Barely missing his car, the rig started lurching sideways like a dinosaur in a death throe, crashed on its side and slid to a stop with a final smoking metal screech. Alan ran to help and just as he got there, the driver stood up through the driver door window and exclaimed to no one in particular, “S--t! Second one this month.”
We all have these stories.
We all know that mere rain kills cars in Memphis, let alone snow, leaving them dark and abandoned on wet streets. We all know that lane lines are just suggestions, and moving in and out of them is to be done either very quickly or ever so slowly with little regard as to who’s already in them and never, ever, giving the move away with a turn signal.
Evidently, virtually everybody in Memphis was frightened by a turn signal as a baby and avoids them at all costs.
We all know that our pedestrians and our drivers are at war.
Today or tomorrow, you’ll probably almost hit somebody crossing the street just about anywhere, except, of course, in a crosswalk. In Memphis, jaywalking isn’t a crime – it’s a birthright.
On the other hand, our drivers consider crosswalks to be lines marking the center of the first car at a light or cross street. In Memphis, pedestrians don’t have the right of way – they need to get the hell out of your way.
Observing the rules of driving – the real ones, not ours – would be, well, pedestrian. Whatever else you may want to call it, our driving, like our city, is never pedestrian.
I’m a Memphian, and y’all be careful out there.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at email@example.com.