A recent survey showed Atlanta ranked in the top five of American cities in road rage, which came as no surprise to anybody who lives and has tried to drive here, as I have, for decades, without either killing or being killed, maiming or being maimed, or, in our distinctly Southern way, getting in some kind of roadside rhubarb with guns, knives, or tire tools.
No, for us, the results of this survey weren’t shocking. They were disappointing, because, over the years we’ve come to take a kind of pride in what, for lack of another better term, I’ll call “Southern Hostitality” — violence behind the wheel that is as organic to Southerners as moonshine running and NASCAR.
Atlanta really is a delightfully hellish place to drive. It’s a place where there’s no better way for a man or woman to start a conversation with a stranger than to ask: “Have you ever flipped somebody off in traffic?”
The answer is always quick, and yes, whether you’re talking to a diesel mechanic, a Baptist minister, a child psychologist or a mayoral candidate. “Last week,” the woman running for mayor will say, “when a guy cut me off on Freedom Parkway, getting in on the left lane and then swinging all the way over so he could take a right on Boulevard. I honked and he just kept going, so I flipped him off. What an asshole.”
Or: “Yeah, this morning actually,” the child psychologist will say between facial tics, “when the light turned green at North Decatur and Briarcliff and the woman was just sitting there putting on makeup or underarm deodorant or something and I honked because that light takes forever and there was a big line of traffic. She flipped me off, and I flipped her back. Bitch deserved it.”
There are plenty of factors that play into this behavior, starting with five million people living here and stitched together by a network of bumper-to-bumper expressways that are always stop and go, if they’re not backed up for miles, and jammed with people who are running late and don’t know where they’re going in the first place.
It’s along those six-lane-wide corridors every socio-economic caste and culture, ethnicity, religion, and criminal record in the city collides, often quite literally, like it does nowhere else in the city, or, for that matter, the South.
Nothing brings out Southern Hostitality faster than Atlanta traffic slowed to a crawl. When Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker went ballistic in Sports Illustrated a few years ago ranting about Atlanta drivers, and Asian women behind the wheel in particular, it wasn’t because he was insane, or racist — though he probably was both — it was because he had driven in Atlanta traffic for more than 20 seconds at a stretch.
So, if you’re planning a driving vacation to Atlanta this summer, and thousands of people are, maybe you could use a few survival tips from a guy who’s been driving in this city for 40 years and once thrust both arms out the driver’s side window and flipped dual, badass birds, at another driver while going 90 miles an hour during rush hour on I-285.
Tailgaters: If you drive in Atlanta you’re a tailgater. It’s not possible not to be a tailgater because 90 percent of the time traffic is bumper to bumper. So what we’re dealing with really is degrees of tailgating. How close is too close? I’ve always used a simple measure. If I spit out the window and it sprinkles the guy’s windshield, then he’s too close — and the game is on.
So, what do you do next? Sort of the hackneyed advice here is to tap your brakes or toss a handful of golf balls out the window so they smash the guy’s windshield and he slams into a bridge abutment and dies in a ball of flames. It’s your call.
Speed limit: That last person who drove 55 miles an hour in Atlanta was dragged out of his car and beaten to death by a group of Jesuits in town for the Peach Bowl. Nobody goes 55 in Atlanta. They either go 9 miles an hour during rush hour, or they go 90 miles an hour, unless they’re in a cross walk, then they go 83 miles an hour (the game up here is called Pedestrian Pickup Sticks, where you see how many you can make scatter in a single pass. My personal record is 17). So, the point is: screw the speed limit.
Switching lanes: Do I signal, then speed up to change lanes? Do I signal and slow down to change lanes? Do I signal at all? All incredibly stupid questions. Switching lanes has nothing to do with how fast you’re going and everything to do with how fast the person in the other lane is going when you’re trying to cut in front of them because only an idiot cuts in BEHIND somebody because then that means that guy is going to BEAT you where you’re going and that completely defeats the whole friggin’ purpose of driving.
Switching lanes has everything to do with whether the guy in the next lane has noticed you motioning at him with a pistol that you’d kindly like him to let you in front of him. Sometimes a little beep of the horn gets his attention. After that, it’s pretty much a no-brainer, unless he has a pistol. In that case you both maintain your lanes while exchanging gunfire and eventually the thing works itself out.
Cell phones: That reminds me of the time I was taking my ten-year-old son to school in Sandy Springs and a woman talking on a cell phone and driving almost ran me into a ditch with her SUV and I followed her to her parking deck and jumped out of my car and ran up to her window and screamed “You almost ran me into a ditch! I’d like to shove that cell phone up your butt!”
It was probably my proudest day as a parent.
Bicyclists: Since 97 percent of the time they’re on the right side of your car slowing down traffic and wearing those ridiculous puss-wad helmets, you’re at a disadvantage trying to knock them in a ditch by throwing open the passenger side door. (But, if you’re lucky, your wife will be riding with you – “Yes, baby! Yes!”). Otherwise, slow down and make a hard right in front of the bicyclist at the next intersection causing him to veer or crash and wet his stupid tight little bicycle pants. And don’t forget to flip him off as you peel rubber and laugh hysterically.
Getting lost: The rule of thumb in Atlanta is no matter where you’re going, where you left, and where you’re headed to, it’s going to take an hour and a half to get there. So don’t even bother with a map. And when you get there, late, and say “Sorry, I got stuck in traffic,” guess what they’ll say? “Yeah, traffic in Atlanta sucks. Want a drink?”
You’re damn right I want a drink.
Thought you’d never ask.
Editor’s note: Traffic is a major topic of conversation in the Atlanta area and in some other Southern cities, including Charlotte, Nashville, Miami and New Orleans. The views expressed by any writer whose work is published on likethedew.com are strictly the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other contributor to the site or any of the readers in the likethedew community. Many of us are advocates for more walking and bicycling and better mass transit. No matter what our personal views are, we encourage people to comment on topics of widespread interest.