Ah, driving in New York City!
I recently had the opportunity to spend a week in New York City for a wedding. We had a rental car and I did a fair amount of driving in the non-Manhattan parts of NYC, so I was able to appreciate first hand the courtesy, respect for law, road manners and consideration for others that New York City motorists have in such abundance.
I hadn’t driven in places like Brooklyn and Queens for years, and since things change, even street names, this was something of a new experience, a deju vu without the deja vu if that makes any sense.
We were staying in Brooklyn first, so I had reserved a car in advance at the nearest Enterprise rent a car to where we would be staying. When I got there from the airport, I tried calling them for a pickup at where I was staying, maybe ten minutes away by car. Enterprise has a slogan, ‘the company that picks you up.’
I’ve used them before, and the norm is that you call them and they come get you wherever you are if it’s local. Ummm, not this time! After hearing the stupid jingle they use while you’re waiting on hold for the sixth time, I decided to just call a car service I’d used before and have them take me there. That’s when the fun started.
When I walked in, I saw a harried young man and a young women behind the rental desk being screamed at by a whole crowd of locals and not so locals. Even if they could have answered the phone, they would have been drowned out by the obscene noise the locals were making.
When it came to my turn, I decided to try a coupe d’charmant, since they had already been softened up. I walked up to young woman, flashed my velvet brown eyes and a sympathetic smile at her and said, in a soft baritone, “I’m not a New Yorker, so I’m not going to yell at you. But it did cost me ten bucks to get here.”
She gave me a tired smile back and explained that there were only the two of them there and her boss simply hadn’t hired enough people to cope with the summer business. I replied that it was a shame that she and her co-worker were subjected to such abuse for something that wasn’t their fault in the least.
La Victoire! Not only did she credit me for the ten dollars, but she also upgraded me to a full size Chevy Impala for the same rate as the compact Hyundai I had reserved. Since I was transporting four people to the wedding, it made a difference.
The first thing I noticed about the car was – wait for it -Alabama plates.
” ‘Bama plates? This is New York City. Am I going to buy trouble with these plates?”
“Why? Nah, you’ll be just fine.”
So I took the beast for a drive back down Avenue J to head back to the house we were staying in. This was my first encounter in many years with drivers in New York City.
The first thing I noticed was that driving here is something of a competitive sport. Seeing the ‘Bama plates, the locals realized I was unaccustomed to the rules and took advantage. The first maneuver I noticed was that even given the smallest space, a real New York City driver in the lane next to you will point the nose of his vehicle into your lane and will bulldoze right past and ahead of you. Ditto for suddenly pulling out of parking spaces without signalling to get in front of you.
Another cute tactic is double parking at will, no matter how narrow the street. Like this:
I realized early that you also get extra points in this game if you double park and then pull out in front of someone successfully to cut them off in traffic.
Now this sort of thing is supposedly against the law, even in New York City. But since I never saw a single person pulled over or cited for this stuff, I assumed the NYPD were somehow in on it and this was just part of the game. In fact, I don’t even think I saw a single NYPD car the whole time I was there.
Definite culture shock! But after experiencing a few of these tactics, I realized that this was a learning experience. I decided that I would become a New York City driver and play the game too! And why not? The Impala had certain advantages. It was big and had sufficient pick up to be extremely competitive given a sufficient amount of skill and some naked aggression. And the ‘Bama plates were helpful as a camouflage, since the locals wouldn’t expect me to be anything but an easily taken advantage of out of towner. Besides, I’d purchased the damage waiver for the Impala, so any scrapes and bumps would cost me diddly squat…
Now, in Southern California it’s routine to signal, get the attention of the driver in the lane you want access to, motion to him or her that you’d like to change lanes, and at least 75% of the time they will simply motion you to go right ahead, after which a thank you wave from the recipient is good etiquette. Very seldom would you see a driver deliberately tailgate the vehicle ahead of him to stop you from changing lanes…but there’s a lot of that kind of behavior in New York City. It’s part of the game.
I’ll never forget the face on the first driver who tried to block me from changing a lane when I simply shoved the Impala in front of him on Ocean Avenue. You would think I insulted his mother or something instead of simply, you know, winning.
Having tried motioning on a couple of occasions with no response except a stern shake of the head or an upraised middle finger, I didn’t even bother this time. You see, as a newly competitive New York City driver, I just turned on the turn signa, hit the gas and had no problem pushing into his lane ahead of him, especially with the Impala versus his tiny Kia.
Admittedly, I never once had the nerve to try double parking New York City style, but my new found competitive spirit allowed me to try some of the other maneuvers quite successfully.
The trip to Five Towns for the wedding was just fine, especially after we got out of the city. One of my four passengers, a close friend of my daughter had a GPS and knew how to use it. Driving back to Brooklyn at night was a bit hairier, with just my son and my wife, who handled the GPS and was learning to use it, but we eventually made it back. I also discovered yet another feature of the Impala. The driver’s side mirror was continually moving around and needed to be constantly re-calibrated. I finally realized that this was because the mirror was not really securely fastened to the body of the car itself, which meant it wobbled depending on which way you traveled. I developed the skill of lowering the window quickly and readjusting it each time it happened, and since I hadn’t even come close to hitting anything, this was how Enterprise sent the car out, believe it or not.
Since we three were driving to Monsey the following day and getting a different car would have been difficult on a Friday, the Impala stayed. So there we were my wife, my son and I in the Impala with a borrowed GPS. My wife liked the GPS, I didn’t really trust it. The silly box, which was supposed to be satellite updated led us into a major traffic jam downtown on Canal Street. And when I say major, I mean one where you are totally stopped for minutes at a time, after which you might be able to move 4 feet or so. And to top it off, it led us into the entrance only lanes for the Holland Tunnel, (thanks to some road closing the satellite didn’t tell the GPS about) which took us into New Jersey.
Monsey is in Rockford County, a few miles over the New York state line, so our alternative was to either find a hotel to stay in until the Sabbath was over, or to take a shot at making it to where we were staying as guests in Monsey before it started. After a couple of phone calls, we got directions from where we were, drove all the way to where we could cross the Jersey line and managed to make it just on time.
In Jersey, drivers seem a bit less inclined to drive by New York City competitive rules, at least where we were, so I was able to relax – just a bit- back into my more typical style of driving.
Going back was something different. We manged to get back to the City, but the original directions the GPS whined in its robot voice were plain disastrous. Another problem with the thing is that it often announces where you’re turning far too late to do anything about it if you’re in really crowded traffic and have to quickly change lanes. We ended up driving through Tribeca and believe it or not, the Village before we ended up in relatively familiar territory.
At that point, I put my foot down and said we were definitely taking the car service to La Guardia. So I returned the Impala to its lair on…well, perhaps I shouldn’t say since they were probably just having a bad day, or week, or month, or something.
Having relearned a few thing about New York City, I didn’t join the line of vehicles waiting on the street but simply drove into the garage. When the man who had been working there when I rented the thing came over to me I told him I was returning, and that was it. So they took me ahead of the poor slobs lined up tailgate to tailgate on the street.
He took me over to the same young woman I’d dealt with before, and she remembered me. I greeted her in the same friendly fashion, but told her there was this little problem, a totally unsafe mirror. Once they saw it, they of course said they didn’t realize, nobody said anything about it, etc. etc. Then they braced for me to start yelling at them.
I didn’t have the heart to do it. After all, I wasn’t really a New Yorker anymore, was I? I could play again by my own rules. So I simply smiled, said that I understood, everybody makes mistakes and nothing bad happened, but it was an unsafe car. It’s not like the radio didn’t work or something, y’know? Something could have happened.
Not only did they give me a nice discount on my bill, but the young woman actually drove me back to where we were staying on East 22nd. Now, most Enterprise branches, at least the ones I’ve dealt with do this sort of thing as a matter of course. But the young woman at this branch left a whole line of customers returning cars on a Monday morning to do it for me.
While the discount was welcome (NYC not only charges 8% plus in sales tax but an 11% tax on rental cars, a total of 19%), somehow her taking the time to drive me the ten minutes to where we were staying seemed like more a fitting climax to my driving in New York City.
Rob Miller writes for Joshuapundit. His articles have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Examiner, American Thinker, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The San Francisco Chronicle, Real Clear Politics, The Times Of Israel, Breitbart.Com, Yediot and other publications.
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