I tried driving a car in England once … only once. It was in the seaside resort of Brighton and my friend Richard insisted that I give it a try. “It’s just like in the states, mate. Except we drive on the right side of the road.” He meant the left. I climbed into his mini-something and we headed down toward the town wharf with Richard patiently telling me that yes, I can do this. And I did … as long as we were going straight, but when I made a left hand turn and made my accustomed move into the right lane I found that the residents of Brighton, England, were not amused. Pulling the tinker toy of a car over to the curb I handed the steering job to Richard. He said I did well but being a former tour guide, Richard lies a great deal.
So since I’d mastered the art of European driving I had no idea that I’d have to learn new driving skills when I moved from Arenzville to Jacksonville. After all, they speak in English in Jacksonville and we give it our best shot in German Arenzville. But I found that there are differences in driving when you move to “town.”
I’d wondered for weeks while folks in Arenzville drive with their right wrist extended over the steering wheel whereby Jacksonvillians tend to grip the wheel on each side. Then one day driving down Walnut (which folks in Arenzville call “Passavant Street”), it hit me. Back in my former town, we practiced what was known as the one-handed-wrist-flip. It’s our custom to wave at every car you meet in Arenzville and to save the constant hand switching back and forth to accomplish this, most drivers simply relax their wrist over the steering wheel and flip a wave to everything on four wheels plus the occasional dog if he goes to your church. Casual drivers don’t, as a rule, wave at each other in Jacksonville, so they tend to devote both hands to the task of steering the car. None of this was covered in my copy of Illinois Rules of the Road.
Another notable difference in navigating the streets of the two towns … people in Jacksonville tend to use their turn signals. This is considered a waste of good battery in Arenzville since we know which way you’re going. True, some Jacksonville residents overdo it a bit and drive the entire length of Morton Avenue with their signal light flashing, but at least they found the lever. In Arenzville, it’s merely another place to hang our sunglasses.
When I moved to Jacksonville, I found that people had this habit of driving on the right side of the road no matter where they were going, then they’d have to switch lanes to make a left hand turn. This seemed like an unnecessary amount of mileage. On the streets of Arenzville, if you happen to live on the left side of the street then you cruise down that side to get to your driveway. Oncoming traffic will simply swerve to get around you. There are few accidents and insurance claims since we’d probably end up suing our cousin and our uncle’s likely to be the insurance agent of both parties.
Jacksonville parking spaces have painted stripes. In Arenzville, we just squeeze in between the tractor and the pickup truck. Here in town they have little concrete thingies to stop your car when you park. In Arenzville, we pull forward until something crunches. Lutherans get the best parking spaces in Arenzville while Jacksonville has a much more ecumenical attitude.
Some people in Jacksonville actually stop at the stop signs. This has brought me frightfully close to several rear-end collisions. I’m not used to that.
Filling your tank in Arenzville is a matter of lifting the nozzle, filling your tank, then going inside to pay one of your relatives. Getting a tank of gasoline in Jacksonville has become a task just slightly less difficult than doing your income taxes … push for grade of gas, push to pay inside, push to pay outside, credit or debit?, would you like a car wash?, how does your mother cook her noodles?, what’s the average mean temperature in Fairbanks? … all of which cause you to wisely shut off your engine before filling your tank or you’d run out of fuel before you had all the questions answered.
Sometimes the JHS driver’s ed car parks in front of my house and simply sits, loaded with new drivers and their teacher. I know he’s telling them, “Okay, let’s see what he does today.”