Driving in the San Francisco Bay Area is a nightmare for me. There are very few hours in the day when the roads aren’t packed with moving vehicles. People aren’t nice. They all seem to be in a hurry. If you are in their way or they perceive you as an obstacle, you’d better not be having a bad day. You will be honked at, be given the finger and many other things that if you are thin-skinned might make you cry not to mention have severe doubts about the humanity of Californians.
When I first moved out here in the early 70s, traffic was a breeze. People were nice. They might pay your way across the bridge just because. Of course, many of us were stoned but better stoned and nice than whatever this is and frightening.
I was driving home from Albany the other day and the traffic down Marin Avenue was slow but moving. Someone was turning onto Marin Ave from my right. S/he had clearly waited as long as s/he was willing to wait and turned onto Marin missing me by centimeters. I could feel my heartbeat skyrocket. I’m in a rental car as I don’t own a car, don’t need one in Paris. Incidents like that turn me into a person I don’t like: angry, judgmental and scared.
When I was 16 going on 17 and learning how to drive, my father used to say to me “Sara, always drive defensively” Being thin skinned, I thought he was criticizing me and I kept telling him I was a good driver. I wasn’t. I drove offensively. I knew all the techniques for passing, driving in the snow, turning corners and did them well. I drove like I was the only car on the road. Now, being bullied and abused on the road here in the Bay Area, I know how absolutely correct he was. I breath deeply. I let anyone in who wants to go in front of me. I stick the speed limit and pray the person tailgating me stays the one foot behind me. I’ve noticed that I do arrive at my destination more times than not, feeling calmer.
You may be asking yourself “Why doesn’t she take public transportation?” and I’d say back to you “you clearly don’t live here or been here for any length of time” There is very minimal public transport here in the Bay Area. Where I live in the lower Oakland Hills, there is a bus that stops about a block away twice a day: to take children to their various schools and to bring them home. A variety of very powerful people have been fighting building a high speed train from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, even though the money was there, successfully. If I don’t want to drive, I call Uber or Lyft. End of story.
Oh but I miss Paris transport. If it’s not the best in the world, it has to be close to the best. Where I lived on Git-le-Coeur, I was 3 blocks from the M10, 1 block from M4 and across the street from RER B and C. I could walk across to the right bank and be at M1 and on and on. And there were sidewalks everywhere. I could walk if I wanted. Here there are often no sidewalks so walking puts one in the street–with those drivers I’ve been talking about.
Not only do we not have public transport, when you drive and look in other people’s cars, 80% of the cars have one person in them, the driver. The United States has always been a car nation, the idea of the Road Trip was born here. The suburbs as an idea became a reality when New York expanded it’s roadways and people could easily get out to Long Island. Now to drive from Oakland to San Francisco, a trip of about 10 miles, often takes an hour and sometimes two hours. Two friends of mine had moved to Oakland many years ago because they could get so much more house for their money. Two weeks ago, they announced that they were moving back into the City. The commute was ‘killing’ them.
Well, you get the idea. If you love driving, don’t live in the city or it’s suburbs.
*song by Woody Guthrie