Southern Manners

I am a transplant to Texas. I was born and raised in Washington state, but Texas is home, and has been for awhile. One of the things I like about Texas is the prevalence of what I would term “southern” manners. As a rule (there are, of course, exceptions to every rule), Texans in person are friendly, helpful, courteous . . . all the things we northern-born Americans expect of those from the south.

But, Lord help us, when Texans get behind the wheel of a car . . . they forget everything their mamas ever taught them.

Now, I've lived in several other parts of the country: Washington, of course, but also Nebraska for ten years, New York for three, Oklahoma for one, etc. I have to say, though, that Texans are about the rudest drivers I've ever had the misfortune to share the road with. And I share the road with them a lot, because I live 50+ highway miles away from the office I commute to every day. So that's at least two hours (on a good day) of highway time for me each working day.

What do I mean by “rude” driving? First of all, Texans don't signal. During the first year I lived in Texas, someone told me that if you see a car with Texas plates with its turn signal on . . . it was that way when they got it. And I believe it. For the most part, Texans turn without signaling and they change lanes without signaling. They apparently think either that you can read their minds or that you simply don't need any advance notice of what they're about to do. It's your job to adjust.

This is especially exciting when their lane change is at 80 mph (Texans drive fast) on the interstate, and right in front of you — as in, you need to at least tap, and possibly slam on, your brakes to keep from hitting them as they move their car into the lane space currently occupied by some part of your car. This happens regularly. Daily. Multiple times each day. My very favorite is when this is done by a big rig. (In fairness to the truck drivers, they actually usually do signal — after they've already started to move over into your lane, which is after you're already beside them.)

Texas drivers tailgate. It's a real treat to have a big F-350 or Suburban riding the tailpipe of my little Mazda Miata. This often occurs because the driver of the big gas guzzler wants me to move out of the way because I'm only driving 70 mph (in a 60 mph zone) and they want to exceed the speed limit by more than I'm exceeding it. I especially love it when, after barreling up to my rear end and riding there for five seconds they flash their lights at me to “get out the way” and, if I don't get over quickly enough for them, they (a) whip out into the adjacent lane (without signaling), (b) fly by me, and (c) whip back into my lane right in front of me (without signaling), nearly taking the license plate off my front bumper.

I love it. Love it.

Then there are those Texas drivers who, on a dark and stormy day when visibility is low, don't see the need to use their headlights because, after all, it's daytime and they can see just fine. They apparently don't realize that they are invisible in my rear view mirror — right up to the moment that they come barreling up to my rear end and. . . . This happened three times on one morning this week while I was driving to work in a thunderstorm.

I don't get it. Texas drivers bear zero resemblance to the Texans I know in person. How is it possible that Texans who, in general, would give you the shirt off their backs when you meet them in person, turn into the Tasmanian Devil when they get behind the wheel of a car?

I like Texas, and I like Texans. But I really, really don't like the way Texans drive.