The joys of interstate travel
Interstate travel provides its own unique glimpses into the culture of the local population. The entire state of Texas, for example, is obviously insane. The Texans' rugged individualism results in a stressful experience for those unfamiliar with their roadway custom (or lack thereof). The trouble is not so much with common highway courtesy, and the high speeds at which they travel is to be expected in a state with so much of nothing between its borders. It is the fact that they are completely unpredictable. The highway is only a suggestion at where automobile travel might take place. But there are a number of impromptu, private exits connecting highways across Texas. They are made recognizable by the worn grass where numerous cars have left one road for another, despite the conspicuous lack of connecting roadway.

It is incredibly disconcerting to have a car suddenly join you on the highway from a nonexistent road. As it is a little unnerving to have cars flying past you at 80 miles per hour...on the shoulder. The shoulder is for emergencies, not high speed travel. Unless you are in Texas where you are expected to pull over onto the shoulder for speedier traffic. Which means that as these insane drivers are speeding past you on the edge of the road, they are also blaring their horns and gesticulating wildly.

The Texans' affinity for driving on the shoulder is a well-documented phenomenon, recognized by the Kansas Department of Transportation. K-DOT, in partnership with insane Texas drivers, is responsible for the most unique traffic signs I have ever seen. Like many states, Kansas has numerous signs warning highway goers not to drive on the shoulder. Several yards beyond these signs, however, you will find clarification. "This is the shoulder," it reads, with an arrow conveniently pointing at the shoulder. Just so the Texans can figure it out.

In Kansas, however, I encountered the most dangerous of driving idiosynrasies. While sitting in the left turn lane, with my left turn signal flashing, I am accustomed to looking down the road for oncoming traffic before turning. I am, however, not accustomed to looking behind me, a vital necessity for driving in the Kansas City metropolitan area. I cannot count the number of times I have almost driven into someone who was not supposed to be there because they were passing me on the left while I was making a left turn.

Lincoln is not a very large town, and they have a bizarre fascination with widening and constructing roads based on projected growth rather than congestion. This means that it is actually pretty easy to get around Lincoln, so long as you do not actually have to drive through Lincoln. Still, most people in Lincoln are not from Lincoln. I think this leads greatly to a certain competitiveness on the highway and lack of common courtesy. Turning on a turn signal, for example, is a guarantee that whatever gap you thought you found on I-80 or US 77 will disappear the moment the car behind you notices its flash. I am not so aggressive as to push my way in, letting other drivers figure out how to make space. And I cannot bring myself to forgo the signals. After all, it annoys me to no end that no one else in Lincoln seems to use them. I wonder why that is?

Which brings me to Denver. This is the largest city I have ever attempted to navigate by car. Cruising into Denver on I-70 with 6% grades around sharp curves and nothing but that flimsy guardrail separating me from certain death, what lane I am supposed to be in fell to the bottom of a list of priorities more immediate to my actual survival. That is where I first noticed something. Denver drivers are really nice. When I signal, gaps in traffic open up. While I am driving along 20 mph slower than the surrounding traffic, trying to decipher my chicken scratches which are serving as my directions, not a single person honked at me. While I sat at a green light looking at a map, the person behind me just eased around me, without any of the gesticulation common to so many other large and not-so-large cities. Even yesterday as the odd notion seized me to go off in search of a WalMart in the middle of rush hour, I was greeted with bumper to bumper silent traffic. Silent. I heard one horn in the 45 minutes it took me to travel the 50 blocks to the store. Amazing.

If only it were catching.