On our return trip from Toledo we ended up on one stretch of road we hadn’t been on in 6 years. Of course the signage had changed and we weren’t sure which lane we needed to be in; and of course our Subaru Navigation system is obsolete enough that Subaru Sally was of no assistance at all. But going into that section of road with the attitude, “it’s not going to be that bad” really helped.
I say this because recently (when we were at the Mitchell Park Domes a week or so ago) I was waiting for Peggy who had gone to the restroom and while I waited I could not help overhear two women who were talking about how traumatic their drive down to The Domes had been. Now, I realize that with a city population of more than 1/2 a million that Milwaukee counts as a “big” city, but compared to many cities Milwaukee is just a speck. And talking about anxiety and trauma in connection with a location that’s quite easy to get to seems a bit harsh — even if the drivers live in Podunk Wisconsin. Still, for people who don’t drive a lot being in a strange place while driving 65 mph can be cause for alarm.
But the thing is that new places, new ramps, new signage, etc., are only as big a problem as you let them be. There are helps out there that can get you through any of those situations and more. All you have to do is care enough to be prepared.
Frankly there’s no excuse for being lost today. If you are smart enough, and alert enough, and capable of driving you ought to be capable of figuring out where you need to go. Maps — they still make them. Online helps exist. Friends exist. Travel services like AAA exist. If you find yourself tooling down the highway at 65 and you haven’t the foggiest idea where you are supposed to get off, for heaven’s sake — get off and find out where you belong!
Don’t give me the excuse that you don’t want to end up in some bad neighborhood. Yeah — bad neighborhoods do exist but the chance of getting mugged while getting directions are less than the chance of causing an injury producing accident! People get way too worried about imagined risks while ignoring the fact that traveling at 65 mph is inherently dangerous in and of itself. Adding your own ignorance to the equation isn’t going to help at all.
It used to be that there were highway standards you could count on. The middle lane of an Interstate used to keep you on the primary highway. But nowadays there are so many “primary” highways (often more than one Interstate running concurrently) that this rule doesn’t apply. It used to be that exits always exited to the right — but that went away a LONG time ago and exits can be anywhere, left or right, or even a secondary exit that is halfway down the primary exit ramp you are already on! You can sometimes exit to the East or West, or exit to the North or South. Sometimes there’s an exit to the Local lanes and to the Express lanes. There are HOV (high occupancy lanes) and Commuter Lanes and High Efficiency Vehicle lanes. Where you need to be depends on who you are, what you are driving, how much you want to spend (or how fast you want to get to your destination), and whether you can read the sign fast enough to get where you want to be before the exit.
I play little games when I’m driving and some of them have to do with how much I can read in the interval I have to recognize a sign and read the content. As I get older I realize that sometimes there wasn’t time for me to take in every detail of a complex sign. It’s important for me to know that. It’s also important for me to realize that if I have lost some ability that I need to make compensations somehow. The “HOW” being the big question. Driving slower isn’t always a good answer, but sometimes it’s better than the alternative. Staying out of the passing lane when I’m not passing helps too. More and more states are pushing the left-lane-for-passing-only rule. But aside from whether it’s legal or dangerous if I’m out there in the passing lane trying to read signs while other people are in a hurry to get someplace I’m inherently causing a dangerous situation.
With both of our parents we had the “how long until dad can’t drive” conversation between us. Fortunately for us we never got to the point where we had to take car keys away from a parent, but many folks do face that need. We live in a country that is not kind to non-drivers, so it’s a traumatic situation to suddenly be bereft of the ability to drive. Still, when you are more of a danger to others and yourself than you are a benefit it’s time to give up the keys. I hope I’m a couple decades away from that date for myself. Only time will tell.
In our immediate situation the stretch of road we were on wasn’t all that tricky — but it did get me to thinking about how WE — all of us — handle the uncertainty of what we face on the road. Right now the U.S. seems to be under a construction cycle. The busy cities we see most often are all remodeling their Interstate highways. That means changes in ramps, in lanes, also in city streets (that have been changed or removed because of the Interstate changes) — wherever I drive it seems the roads are new, newer than last I traveled there, or still under construction.
If I don’t make up my mind how terrible it is to have to deal with the change I can adjust. If I decide first that the change IS terrible then I have to first deal with how I feel about the change and THEN deal with the change. Sometimes there just isn’t time to do both. To me, it’s just an adventure. Let’s have fun with it and see where we end up. And if we make a wrong turn — so what? I’m retired. 5 minutes difference in my arrival time isn’t going to change the world.