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 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.
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.
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.