Friday, October 08, 2004

Road Rage

There is no road rage in Sicily, I've decided. It's futile. You'd be raging all the time because the drivers and the driving are totally crazy and unpredictable. Every vehicle is bashed, dented, and/or scratched. It's really only a matter of time until I join them.

Every day I drive twenty miles to work and twenty miles back. A little less than half of that is through two towns as I go up or down the volcano--Gravina and Mascalucia. As I get further down, the traffic thickens, which makes it "more interesting."

Actually, while Sicilian driving seems random and chaotic, there really is an unwritten, unspoken set of "ground rules," and once you figure that out, you just "do as the Sicilians." So, that means I no longer obey any speed limits, stop signs, or traffic lights. Well, there is ONE that everyone knows you must obey, but this morning a Smart car zoomed right around all of us who where stopped and raced right through the light and the intersection. Luckily nothing was coming at the time, or he'd not be so smart.

Sicilians have two speeds--very fast and very slow. The only ones driving in-between are Americans. Still, I'm becoming more like the Sicilians every day. Person ahead of you going too slow? Just race around them. No problem if a car is approaching from the other direction, because they'll just move over and you can pass in the middle. Sometimes a long line of cars will be stopped for some reason and a little Fiat will come barreling down the middle of the road, passing everyone and then sqeezing in at the front of the line when he has to. Sicilians understand this. They don't get mad; they just let him in.

Traffic circles are especially fun places, and there are a multitude of them here. Who yields to whom? The person with the most guts and speed wins every time. You can't make eye contact or they take advantage of you. Just maintain speed and screw up your courage. They always understand this--it's how they drive. Just put a fender in and you're in! Hesitate, and you've lost.

The narrowness of the streets, random parking, and blind alleys and corners add to the fun. I think of it every day as a kind of video game which I must win in order to get where I'm going safely and in a timely manner. You can't daydream; you have to be ever vigilant! My friend was driving through one of these small towns with her SUV when a guy decided to open his door just as she was about to pass him. Bam! Off went her electric mirror. Her fault, of course. That's a pretty common thing here. If you have both mirrors intact, you're lucky.

There's only one thing I haven't gotten used to, and that's the kamikaze motor scooter and motorcycle drivers. They are allowed to pass on either side, in the middle, and do so frequently. More than once I've swerved just a tiny bit to avoid something only to find a motorscooter right at my side. I'm terrified that I'm going to take one out. They come like bats out of hell seemingly out of nowhere.

Traffic moves pretty well on the autostrada (freeway), but some of the same things apply there--passing in the middle, driving in the middle or on the shoulder, crazy motorcyclists. Often there are no lines painted, so it's a free-for-all.

Though it seems like no one knows what he/she is doing, they actually all DO. Once I learned that and got into their rhythm, I was fine with it. But vigilant, ever vigilant. Defensive driving at its best. No rage, just patience.


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