Carpe Viam

in The Salon by

The worst part about living in Vegas, by a mile, is the driving. The oven-like summers here are notorious but at least they’re bearable, as is the brutal monotony of blue skies, palm trees and beigeness. But the drivers here…

Everybody here, almost everybody here, drives like they’re either lost or drunk or high, on pills, over 60 or under seven, are having a stroke or heart attack, or some combination of these. Their cars crawl along like Model Ts, even though I live in an especially fancy part of town where the Mercedes S-Class is as common as Nissan Altimas are back where I come from. I’m surrounded by rich retirees, to be fair, so there are a lot of old farts pushing these slowmobiles. But still, horrible driving seems to be endemic to the region; it’s just that the greyheads are the worst offenders.

People here don’t know how to switch lanes, or make a left turn, or move with the flow of traffic. Everybody here, almost everybody at least, drives as if cars and the rules of the road had just been invented a few years ago, driving super slow and carefully. They drive like they’re afraid of cars, theirs and everyone else’s.

A few drops of rain on the Vegas Beltway immediately causes a flaming 10-car pileup with multiple deaths and countless people left injured.

I’ll tell you what it’s like driving here in Vegas: like driving in GTA. Driving in GTA can be pure fun because for the most part the other cars move slowly and the computer drivers mindlessly stick to their lanes and obey traffic signals, with no sudden movements. You can see a computer driver changing lanes from a mile away: it uses a turn signal and takes a long five seconds to do it, and that lets you drive your Enus Cognoscenti Cabrio or Grotti Stinger with a certain calm that comes from seeing the road from a practically birds-eye slow-motion view. And since the drivers here in Vegas drive slower than molasses, whenever I feel like it, I can do at least 25 over the speed limit, bending around the other cars in one seamless curving trajectory, driving like a god among mere mortals, how Franklin does, the car streaking through traffic like a shiny black comet.

Yet, as any video-game addict knows, sometimes a computer driver will behave erratically, switching lanes de repente or lurching up over the curb and flattening your guy out on the sidewalk.

The accidents caused by crazy computer drivers tend to be the most hilarious because they come out of nowhere and would be the most bone- and car-crushing in real life. But in real life when I’m doing 60 in a 35 and, just as in GTA, some brainless piece-of-shit decides he’s going to make a quick lane change, almost a complete turn, even when there’s nowhere to turn into, and with no signal or anything, not even a crooked arm out the window, and I have to slam on the brakes or jerk the steering wheel away in time to avoid eating from a tube for the rest of my life, it’s more than a little nerve-racking–it’s fucking infuriating.

The way people here drive is the way they behave and talk, too: they’re slow. I don’t mean they’re stupid–brainpower has nothing to do with where you were born–but they’re just not, as they say back home, “quick wit’ it.” Which is a major reason why the customer service out here is such dogshit. Rarely do you come across a receptionist or clerk or server or anybody in customer service who knows what they’re doing, much less how to do it with gusto or flair.

Having served fools myself for a time, I don’t know any greater platonic joy than being served a meal by someone who takes pride in themselves and their work. And when I do meet such a person here, I automatically tip them 25 percent; exceptional people deserve to be rewarded. On the other hand, I’ve had hundred-dollar dinners ruined by some walking eye-booger who couldn’t work the fries at Arby’s.

Then the other week it hit me: the way we drive is the way we live our lives and do most things. Think about it. Think of the way you drive…

Or look at the way I drive. Sometimes I drive slow, taking my time, lingering at stoplights daydreaming, and sometimes I race like I’m outrunning a tsunami of fire. My wife complains that I drive one way whenever I should be driving the other way, and vice versa: when we’re in a rush somewhere, I act like I’m floating down a lazy river on a log raft watching the clouds, and on calm Sunday mornings I drive like a serial killer with a death wish.

I’m not going to sit here and dissect myself for the reader’s pleasure. I told you that people drive how they live, so you figure it out.

My wife once drove into the passenger door of a cop car in a grocery store parking lot. She drives like one of the Furies, like a vengeful spirit broke loose from Purgatory, possessed, flames bursting from her mouth, nose and ears, lightning bolts shooting from her eyes, riding the back bumper of the car in front of her, changing lanes just to gain an inch, honking and yelling, huffing and puffing, really driving the car forward like a wide-eyed stallion charging the Gates of Hell, the other cars reeling and swerving out of her way. If you know what she does for a living, it makes sense: she’s the director of operations at some company. She’s also the director of operations at our house.

I know a woman who avoids making left turns, on the road and in life. I know another woman who avoids the expressway. And I know a third woman who avoids driving completely; she has other people drive her car, even in emergencies.

I know an old carpenter who drives slow and meticulous, sin prisa, carefully.

I know a guy who used to get four speeding tickets a year, till they gave him a badge to wear. Now he never speeds or breaks any rules of the road–and won’t let me break any either whenever I’m driving him.

I know a few people who kept getting into wrecks and having to start all over again with new cars.

I dated a girl in high school who was always crashing her car but didn’t really care because her dad could easily afford to fix it or buy her a new one.

I’ve ridden with undocumented people who were some of the best drivers you will ever have the pleasure of sharing the road with.

And I know a 39-year-old spinster who’s never bothered learning to drive at all.

See, it’s like I’m saying: people drive like they live. So seize the road, goddammit!


Featured image: Chase Elliott Clark/Flickr

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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