Sunday, February 27, 2011

Maryland Drivers - Something You Just Have to Live With

I've alluded to the phenomenon that is the drivers of Maryland before. Don't feel embarrassed if you haven't fully understood these references. A year and half ago, I wouldn't have, either. In my Tennessee days, Maryland was, happily, a fact of which I was aware of intellectually but not experientially. I'd been to Baltimore once when I was kid, but as a passenger rather than a driver, they had failed to make a significant impression on my innocent psyche.
As an adult, however, I've experienced the Land of Mary and its people in a whole new way. You need some context to fully appreciate my own territorial biases and presuppositions. The DC Metro area is filled with the same kind of snobberies that you encounter in the NYC Metro area. Think of DC proper as Manhattan, Northern Virginia (NOVA) as Brooklyn and/or Connecticut, and Maryland as New Jersey. The DC people look down on anyone who doesn't live in the city limits. Whatever, the joke's on them- I pay half the rent for twice the space and safety and I can vote in Presidential elections. Deal with it, "real Washingtonians." NOVA is for the enlightened bunch who need to be literally be a couple of metro stops away from the Capitol but want to be able to park their cars and live in more than 500 square feet without fearing being mugged every time they go outside. Think fiscally sensible yuppies in Arlington (my old digs) and rich young families in McLean/Falls Church (the second richest county in America). And once you get into Loudon County (aka the richest county in the US), forget about it. They've got enough snoot to rival any Connecticut country club socialite. There is some mutual upturned noses between DCers and NOVAians; but these two groups are united in their disdain for the nether region known as Maryland.
Ah, Maryland. Now, I can only tell you a little bit about it from my own experience, as I have only deigned to go there for the Ikea and a few mandatory work functions. But from what I gather, the sketchy part of College Park is enough like the rest of the southern part of the state for me generalize. It should be noted that Bethesda and Chevy Chase are universally excluded from these prejudices. They are the only acceptable areas of Maryland for a self respecting urban professional to inhabit- maybe like an upscale Queens or Long Island. And Silver Springs- we'll call that the equivalent of a gentrified Bronx neighborhood. But the places in between- help me. Think old buildings. Think scary looking men on corners salivating as they look at your purse with their box cutters primed. Think (literally, I saw this) 4 liquor stores on one corner. For my Southern friends, think the beginning of true Yankeehood, with the rudeness and bad fashion. And finally, think the worse drivers you can imagine.
Now, it took me a while to arrive at this conclusion. Mostly because traffic in this area is already out of control. We've recently been named the worst traffic in the country (woot-woot!) and I have to drive through the most heavily constructed square mile every morning. Needless to say, lines are long, people are tense, and cars seem to make a lot of poor decisions. Remarkably low number of accidents, though- I digress. I noticed a lot of crazy drivers when I first moved. I myself have become crazier as I've lived here, so I don't notice as much any more. But every once in a while, I would still notice someone doing something exceptionally crazy or stupid. Weaving in and out like a drunk hypnotist. Getting in the lefthand land and going 20 miles an hour. Speeding up and slowing down to stay parallel with people trying to merge in from an ending lane. And I would think, are they from out of town? Or are they just mentally challenged? And consistently, in hopes of giving them credit for being from Idaho or something, I would see that the tags read "Maryland."
I began to test the theory- any time I found myself muttering, "Idiot!" under my breath, I would check the tags of the offending fool. Honestly, about 9 times out of 10, it's someone from Maryland. So I thought, maybe it's because I'm always seeing them in the city or in Virginia. Off of their home turf- maybe we can chalk it up to unfamiliarity with the area. But the next few forays into their territories revealed that home court advantage was no help on improving their overall skillz. I still had people nearly hitting me or cruising in neutral in the left hand lane.
Next, I began to socialize the hypothesis with coworkers and friends. "Hey- have you noticed that people from Maryland are terrible drivers?" They would just nod and stare blankly. "And?" Evidently, this is no news to DC area veterans; rather, it is common knowledge that there are crazies and fools amongst us on the roads. It's not localized to the DC area, either- I saw some terrible Maryland drivers in Tennessee the last time I was home.
These days, I just accept it. I know that every time I get on the Beltway, I am taking my life and sanity into my hands. I've almost reached the point of being indulgent about them. I find myself shaking my head and chuckling under my breath, "Oh, Maryland." Much the same way I do for Canada. If you can't lose 'em, love 'em.
So for those of you planning a visit- keep a sharp lookout. You, too, may be hit by the tidal wave of confusion that is the cohort of Maryland drivers.

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