Rules of the Road for County Driving
Strap on your goggles, put on your helmet, break the bulbs out of your turn signals … Here you drive by our rules!
Summer is the season when County roads are packed with extra traffic and drivers should watch for all of the local driving peculiarities.
Number One on the protest list: Does anyone know what a signal light is? It’s that thing on the left of your steering wheel, opposite the gear shift. It’s that thing that tells other drivers what the heck you’re doing.
Hardly anyone in the County uses this device, a habit dating to the early days of the automobile, when everyone recognized the driver, and already knew where he was going.
As a longtime driver here, I have learned some handy tips to detect what the driver in front of you is doing.
Rule #1: If the driver swerves to the left, across the yellow line, he is turning right, so don’t be fooled by the illusion that he is actually going to continue going left. He’s just making sure, as every good driver should, that he approaches his driveway at a perfect 90 degrees, without cutting the corner.
Rule #2: Watch for full brakelights. If one brakelight is burnt out, a person pumping their brakes can make you think he’s turning, when he’s actually stopping. Caution: Remember, one flashing light means the person is stopping with a burnt-out brakelight: if he is turning, you should see no flashing lights at all.
Rule #3: If the driver (or the passenger) looks to the left more than three times, he is sizing up his turn. This has the same rhythm as a signal light, without the lights.
Once I was following a driver through Bloomfield. Without warning (and without signalling) he turned left into the Christian Reformed Church parking lot, cutting off a car in the oncoming lane, and bringing me to a panic stop. I had time to read his bumper sticker: “I’m prepared to meet my Maker … are you?”
County drivers can be divided into two groups:
1) The Assertive Drivers who say, “Hey, I own this car and I own this road … I know what I’m doing … you figure it out!”;
2) The Oblivious Drivers who say, “There’s just me and my car and no one else in the whole wide world.” They treat their windshield like it’s a TV screen; there’s something happening on the other side of the glass, but it doesn’t really affect me.
‘Driving Real Slow’ is sort of the official sport in the County. This is combined with ‘Rubbernecking’ (a close second) to create a lethal weapon on four wheels.
‘Sunday Driving’ doesn’t hold a candle to the sport. Every day of the week cars packed with people take a s-l-o-o-o-o-w look at what’s happening in the County. Prime objects of observation are: new houses being built, the height of grain crops, height and ear size of corn, who’s visiting whom and, of course, who’s ploughing on Sunday.
The sport is entertaining for the participants, but requires meandering all over the road because the driver has to get a good look, too. If you’re following them, forget it … the one thing they never look at is the rearview. Just settle back, forget your urgent appointment, and take a look at what everybody in the car ahead is pointing at, in unison.
Another odd trait that I have observed in almost 20 years of driving County roads is the ‘County Wave’. This is the way that one driver greets another driver during his journey.
The Four-Finger Wave
The classic greeting is the ‘Four-Finger Wave’, in which the driver raises four fingers from the top of the steering wheel when he sees someone he knows. This saves a lot of effort, compared to the Full Arm wave, and is most effective if the driver looks straight ahead without expression.
The One-Finger Wave
Some drivers have modified the County Wave by creating the One-Finger wave, i.e. lifting one finger off the steering wheel. This can mean one of several things: A) I don’t have enough energy to go for a Four-Finger Wave; B) You’re not worth raising all four fingers; or C) I don’t usually wave at all, take what you can get.
The Full Arm Wave
This is best executed when the window is open, and the driver can give it all he’s got. If it’s winter, the driver may suffer bruised knuckles from an overly-exuberant wave, and may have to resort to a Four-Finger Wave for the remainder of the season. A friend of mine has perfected the Full-Arm Wave Out The Window While Honking the Horn and Shouting Indecipherable Greetings, which makes him both friendly and dangerous, on the road.
The Mirror Wave
Okay, I admit I’m the only one who does this but, when I drive, I’m usually singing along with the radio and don’t even see someone giving me a wave until he’s gone by. So I wave into the rearview mirror. I don’t know why – he can’t possibly see me waving into my mirror through his mirror! It’s sort of like saying “Excuse me” when there’s no one else in the room.
The Not-Really-A-Wave Wave
Personally, because of the complexities of all these Waving styles, I wave back at anyone who makes any kind of hand gesture of any kind. Even rude ones. Most of the waves I receive are in response to me raising my hand to adjust my sun visor, but that’s the County for you!
Now you’re ready to hit the road, and remember … be careful out there!
– Steve Campbell from The County Handbook
Pick up your copy of The County Handbook and other County books, Breakaway Magazine, and The County Magazine at County Magazine in Bloomfield.