Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Spin Cycle: The Good, The Bad, and The Fugly of Driving in Hawaii

I learned to drive on Southern California freeways in the 1970’s. I have no idea what it is like nowadays, but back then, before California had money problems, Driver’s Ed was a class during the regular high school day. At my high school it was taught in a “portable classroom,” also known as a single wide trailer. It was like the Dave and Buster’s of its time, with simulated driving booths running in pairs up to a wide screen at the front. There was also the obligatory movie everyone had to watch. A bunch of video footage taken at the scene of accidents, so all us 15 and a half year olds could see the mangled body parts of those who had been in wrecks. Not so subliminal message.

My friend and I cut class the day they were showing the movie. Did we look stupid? Apparently we did. We had to come after school and watch it by our lonesome because they would not give us the written seal of approval to move on to the actual driver’s training until we saw the snuff auto flick.

My dad frosted the cake of my driver’s education. A native Californian himself, he had me drive from our outpost in the Conejo Valley, down through Los Angeles proper, negotiate several freeway interchanges, and back home another way entirely. All the while, making me merge on, merge across to the fast lane, merge back to the slow lane, get off the freeway, and begin again.

I can still distinctly remember his instructions for merging onto the freeway, explaining the engineering dynamics of the merge lane and how it was designed so that by the time you merged, you were going the speed of traffic.

From the age of 17 to 24 (when I moved to Hawaii) I spent a lot of time on those LA freeways. I thought myself an expert at checking my rear view mirror, finding that gap in cars, and slipping in at full speed.

When I first moved to Hawaii, I did not bring my car. I rode a bike, took a bus, and caught rides with others for a year.

It was not until my car was shipped that I experienced firsthand the cultural automotive gap between driving in LA and this tropical “paradise.” (You will understand the quotes in a bit).

The Good

The Aloha Spirit in Hawaii extends to driving habits. If one is waiting to come out onto a road in traffic, back out of a parking space, or anything along these lines, someone will “wave” you in. In other words, a driver that could blast by and make you wait, will actually pause, wave you in, and let you out. If this happens, one is expected to give the shaka back at the nice driver. If one is not accustomed to giving the shaka sign, one should at least wave in a friendly way.

In all of the eight years I spent in Southern California as a driver, this had never happened to me once. (Not the shaka.) The voluntarily letting someone in when it is not necessarily his or her turn.

The Bad

Merging. Seriously.

For one, the engineers who designed Hawaii’s “freeways” must have been smitten with the wacky weed whilst they were under contract in the islands. The onramps lack the length one needs to get up to speed in the first place. Also, just because you can get off the freeway, does not necessarily mean you will able to get back on from the same street. Hint to visitors: most of the onramps in Honolulu are hidden and somewhat secret. I think the engineers were playing some kind of stony game, like who could design the most random onramp. You need to drive here a few months before you discover the onramps, especially in Makiki.

Secondly. Some of the locals’ way of dealing with the shorter onramps is to drive to the end. Stop. And merge from a stop. Especially the older folks who bought their homes in town (Honolulu) back when the homes in town were affordable. I would especially advise visitors to avoid the onramps on University Avenue (UH). The first time I drove to UH and attempted to jump back on the freeway I almost died. Here I was, getting up to speed as quickly as possible on a hair pin turn of an onramp, eyes focused on my left hand rear view mirror, selecting the gap in cars for my car to enter, when I look in front of me….AND, to my surprise, A CAR WAS PARKED ON THE END OF THE MERGE LANE WITH ITS LEFT BLINKER ON.

The squeal and smell of brakes is still burned into my memory. By the time I stopped, I was on the right hand side of the parked car, ready to rain a tirade of cussing and middle finger at the driver. A little old man, probably in his seventies, was starring out at me with his mouth shaped into a little “O.”

So I sucked it up.

And when my daughter started going to UH, I took her to town, showed her the onramps, and advised her to NEVER enter the freeway heading west from the UH onramp.

The Fucking Ugly

The entire west side of the island these days. Oahu’s Second City.

In a nutshell, all the new homes are being built there, the population is going off the charts, traffic has quadrupled ten times over AND, there is still the same number of policemen and police beats as there were ten years ago.

Hawaii does not have a highway patrol. So, the policemen have to have a triage system for what they can do. Domestic violence and violent crimes come first. Car accidents next. Everything else after.

Homes were allowed to be built before roads.

Because of the new homes, the demographics of teen and twenty something year old drivers is higher than any place else in the islands. By a landslide

I have seen:

Young male drivers running red lights when they do not feel like waiting. And yes. Every time I have witnessed this occurring the driver was young and male. Sorry guys.

Drag racing on the freeways (it used to be at night, but now it happens even during the day).

Aggressive tailgating like you would not believe.

It’s the Wild West and then some.

However…

If you come to Hawaii and rent a car, no matter how frustrated or pissed off you may get, NEVER, EVER, HONK YOUR HORN OR FLIP MIDDLE FINGER. They just don’t do that over here. The separation of driving and personal does not exist and it is quite possible that if you honk or flip, the car in front of you may stop. The driver may get out. And you may get punched in the face. Seriously. Especially don’t try that stuff on the Wild West Side of Oahu.

If you would like another story of driving, I wrote this last year. The woman driver was not from here; I could tell by her plates. I named her Ms DumbAss.

For more spins on driving, head on over to Sprite’s Keeper.

36 comments:

Kaylen said...

omg, this was a great post! I have not been to Hawaii, but the image I have in my head does not feature freeways - there are no freeways, there are only dirt roads that have ocean on one side and either a steep cliff on one side or big green fields. I just don't see freeways at all, much less on/off ramps!!

Smart Mouth Broad said...

If I ever get there, I think I'll just take a cab. Yikes! No middle finger salutes here, either. A person could get shot for doing something like that.

Jan said...

Reading this, I had to remember that in Hawaii, a "highway" is not the same as it is here on the mainland. When I think highway, I think massive, 8-lane interstates. And even though I've never been to Oahu, except to the airport, I imagine those don't exist even there.

You know, I keep telling Beloved that if he keeps yelling at people who piss him off, one day someone is going to hurt him. He never listens.

Amy said...

Love that people wave you in and out. Here if you start to back out and another car is coming you stop or they honk or speed by you.

Michele said...

Driving in Phoenix is the Bad and the Ugly without the good. It would have been nice to have some good.

True Blue Texan said...

Dude, I thought Austin was the only place that had people stop at the end of the on ramps! Glad to know someone else has shared the experience.

mo.stoneskin said...

"Young male drivers running red lights when they do not feel like waiting"

Sadly those suckers are everywhere.

And as for tailgaters, they are THE WORST. Okay, if some twit is doing 20 in a 40 zone and I'm in a rush I may just "let them know" but when some idiot comes right up behind in the fast lane it drives me mad. Even worse is when they are behind you for ages, not overtaking, just tailgating indefinitely.

Kristan said...

"By the time I stopped, I was on the right hand side of the parked car, ready to rain a tirade of cussing and middle finger at the driver. A little old man, probably in his seventies, was starring out at me with his mouth shaped into a little “O.”"

LOL aww. I can totally picture him. And I'd have done the same thing as you.

Sadly this happens in Ohio too, again with the old people...

IB said...

When I was in driver's ed we had to watch 2 films: "Death on the Highway" & "Mechanized Death". We thought it was cool.

Mom Taxi Julie said...

I live in a small community of a lot of old people. There are two long roads to get out to the "club". Nothing is more embarrasing than passing someone and then having to wave to them at the mail box once you get in lol.

blueviolet said...

Don't try to pretend that Hawaii is not the most magically wonderful place in the United States. I'm not falling for this charade.

Sprite's Keeper said...

Love this!
When John and I went out there back in 2000, there were three highways and I quickly had to get used to that huge flat bridge that connected Honolulu to Waikiki. My fear of heights was already building back then and coming out the tunnels from flat road to hugging the side of a (albiet bueatiful) mountain was not something I could get used to.
You're linked!

Maureen at IslandRoar said...

Wow, interesting. It's funny how people drive differently in different places. In the winter here, people stop on the road if they see someone in an oncoming car they know, roll down the window and talk. And those behind wait for them. There's no honking or fingers here either. But not cause you'll get punched in the face; it's cause you might be behind them at the post office.

Kate said...

I love this post, thanks for sharing!

only a movie said...

I hate driving. Really hated it in LA. Ack.

Cool post.

Oh, and when I taught the high school program at my school? Totally in the portable classroom. Single-wide trailer, oh yes it was.

:-)

Hit 40 said...

Drag racing during the day?? They must be practicing on I-270 in Columbus for you. The Columbus cops also rarely give out tickets.

I will also take a taxi!!!

Trooper Thorn said...

I thought it was a pardise of goat paths and old VW vans with surf boards on top. Who knew?

Jack said...

I only drive in the city when I absolutely have to - I get too overwhelmed and tend to have major meltdowns in the middle of traffic... I much prefer highway driving.

Columbia Lily said...

I haven't lived a lot of different places, but I have driven between Texas and Oregon many times, and each city or area definitely has their own set of driving "rules" that are understood only by the people who live there.

Melissa B. said...

We were on Maui a couple of years ago and experienced the Aloha Spirit big-time on the roads. But don't know if I traveled on any freeways, unless the road from the airport to Lahaina can be considered a highway. We did, however, face the nasty experience of young tourists in rented Mustangs. Whenever I encountered these yahoos, I literally would head the other way, even if it meant going out of my way.

Debbie said...

People here do the stop and merge too. Drives me nuts. And they have no idea that their car comes with a signal light.

Twenty Four At Heart said...

Driving in S.Cal is way worse now. Having just gone up to SB over the 4th ... I have to say it was pretty frustrating. I do a lot of driving when we're in Hawaii but it's been at least five years since I've been to Oahu. I'm sure the population has grown a ton in that time. I like honking my horn, but I can honestly say I never have honked while in Hawaii. In the OC? All the time.

TuTu's Bliss said...

This is so true. We were used to the AutoBahn in Germany so you can imagine the shocker we got with the 50 miles on the freeway! This post couldn't come at a better time. I also love that the left lane is for cruising next to you instead of passing. It has taken me years to finally adust.

Mango Girl said...

I routinely tell people about how courteous the drivers are in Hawaii. Wish that Houston would learn to be like that...

I so miss the lovely islands and dream of going back and never leaving.

Fish said...

Great spin!

Paul said...

yeah let your readers know about

www,teenlivedrive.com

for the future.

Wunderwoman said...

Great post, thanks for sharing. My one hope is to NEVER be a slow old driver;) I've been waving the shaka sign alot around here, trying to get someone to race with me! LOL I thought it meant "surfs up"

waving the shaka sign at you...bye

Shadow said...

seems like it's a world-wide thing. this ignoring the basic rules of driving...

starrlife said...

I laughed at the little old guys O! I remember driving in Hawaii, Oahu but that was over 15 years ago. That's sad about the West side!

Rachel said...

This was great! I loved the image of some friendly Hawaiian merrily waving me out of my driveway while I merrily waved back. It also reminded me of several things I hate about driving. And how I shut my eyes while merging onto the highway for years because if I watched while I tried to do it I'd freeze up. It is amazing that I am not dead and have not killed anyone else either.

kirsty815 said...

Snuff auto flick..lol I remember those! What a great post I will keep in mind the honk and finger if I ever get the opportunity to go to Hawaii!!!
Merging is not my strong point! I hate when people are waiting to enter the highway from a side street, they're not sure when you're a half mile away if they should pull out and then BAM when you're within a few feet they get balls and gun it. Great post!

kirsty815 said...

PS I thought about it and I don't think I could take my hubby to Hawaii he'd get punched in the face a lot...lol Really bad at keeping his temper on the road.

Aleta said...

Because my Mom is visually impaired, I was allowed a driver's license at the age of 14. I was terrified and didn't want to be on the road. I took the driver's ed class and passed. However, the main test was with my Dad. Only, Dad didn't realize that I take things at face value when someone gives me instructions. He told me that I took a turn too fast, that my speed limit shouldn't be above 5 miles per hour. So, as we went down Veterans (a major road in Metairie/New Orleans), I slowed down to 5 miles an hour to make the turn. Dad was livid, asking if I was trying to get us in a car accident. Luckily, we both survived his test. Lol.


Thanks for the heads up about the driving in Hawaii. My family has talked about vacationing there. We are going back and forth on doing a cruise or taking a drive around. I think I'll share your blog post about the driving.

Mama Badger said...

Such diversity on the roads of Hawaii. I'll keep this all in mind. Or take a cab.

Creepy said...

I have a hard time keeping my middle finger down when met with a bad driver...I would be in trouble in HI.

Oh and I didn't know that about the Shaka sign... did you know that it's the ASL sign for 'yellow'...and with two hands it means 'play'...well now you do.

Ginger said...

I had completely forgotten about driver's ed class and the little simulated cars in the trailor. I hope I never have to drive in Hawaii. It sounds awful!