On the East Coast, driving is mostly a matter of minding one’s own business, keeping one’s eyes on the road ahead and listening to music or radio. You pass large signs along the way which advertise various nicities like BMWs or trips to London or Sesame Place. You drive, sometimes with one finger on the wheel. You have a coffee or a Coke. Sometimes you even smoke. And you talk on the phone, though in New York State, you must wear a headset of some kind, which seems only fair because if you’re going to talk while driving and listening to music and smoking and having a coffee all at the same time, you certainly don’t want to get in an accident. Some people, and especially those in Acuras, even watch where they are driving virtually through a GPS video monitoring system that details their exact location on the mapped landscape. Most of thes scenery is pretty sparse and unbeautiful and there are concrete barriers lining the road to the left and right. You can go 65 miles per hour and sometimes 95 on emptier roads but mostly you go about 65 or 75, or whatever is 10 miles an hour more than the posted speed limit. On many highways, one will find light posts every 100 yards to show you the way and there are little yellow reflective bumpy things in the middle of the lines to make sure you stay on the damn road when you’re not drinking coffee. It’s all rather easy. Even when you’re stuck in traffic in Staten Island or Connecticut, the biggest worry you have is that you will run out of gas, which is unlikely. You turn the radio or the air conditioner on or off and hope that the traffic starts moving again and then you make a phone call and you go back to being frustrated behind the wheel. Hopefully, you don’t have a screaming child or spouse in the car with you, or, if you do, maybe they’re screaming at each other. It’s not always fun but it is straightforward. Signs are generally kind of clear, except when you’re in New Jersey and the whole of driving is rather determined by a combination of private and public definitions, constraints, legalities and allowances.
On the West Coast, it’s somewhat similar except people have guns in their cars. Pretty uncomplicated.
Here in Manitoba, it’s plain old scary ass on the road. Roads are long and flat and signs are few and far between. The signs aren’t bad; in fact, they’re downright fine, telling drives whether they’re going North, South, East or West, which is all that really matters in a huge Canadian province among other huge provinces and American states. You drive, and unless you’re in small car like ours and the wind blows you backward and forward and left and right and you don’t know what kind of tires you got even though you know they’re new and supposedly stable and there aren’t any problems with the struts or shocks or wheel axles, you’re totally fine. But once outside of a city, you look around you and to the left and to the right are endless open spaces filled with gently looming green or yellow or purple crops. And the clouds hang low near you and the trees dot the occasional field and the road gets straighter and straighter and the remaining barriers in the road disappear and the next thing you know you’re driving down a highway in which the only thing separating you from other vehicles going in the other direction is a thin, worn yellow dashed line. If you really look around you you’ll probably see a truck in front of you and one heading towards you in the other direction and the sun could be bright enough to make oasis-like waves on the asphalt and the road gets a little hazy as you hope to dear G-d that the truck with dim lights on doesn’t smack your vehicle. Then there’s another truck behind you and because you’re going only 85 kilometers per hour at this point (although the signs say 100), he’s passing you at 110 and you hope to dear G-d that he doesn’t railroad you from behind as another truck comes full throttle in front of you. Or worse yet, if it’s in winter, and the temperature is minus 10 or minus 20 Celsius, you could be driving on black ice, which is ice on black asphalt and you have no idea when the wind is going to pick up and push your car 3 feet to the right, thus sending your steering wheel to the left and your back sheers to the far right and your car into a full-out circle. And if it’s dark out and it’s winter, then you have to hope that you’re staying on the road the whole time. Meanwhile, you probably don’t have the radio on at this point and your cellphone doesn’t work and it’s darker than you can imagine outside and even the interior of your car is hard to see except for the dimly lit dash. Or, even worse than that, you could be driving along in winter and nighttime and it’s snowing out and your visibility is about 3 feet in front of you and the only thing your headlights are doing is shining on the snow falling before your car and the air outside is whipping around your tires, making you feel like you are starting to lift off, defying gravity itself because of new laws written just for the prairies. All this time, your little heart is beating because you know there’s no one else around for a few miles and it’s cold enough outside to give you frostbite in a matter of minutes and death in about 45 minutes. Worse, if you stop your car because you’re totally freaked out, the likelihood of another vehicle smacking yours on the highway is about 97 percent and, if you’re anywhere near your vehicle at that point, you just have to hope. Well, I think my point is that with driving in Manitoba, you just have to hope anyway. People here laugh when I tell them I want to get me an F150 or a new Ford Five Hundred but I’m dead serious.