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Baby, you can drive my car ... to Jersey

I spent part of Spring Break in a place I visit rather infrequently. No, I did not take off for a sunny locale to lounge on a sandy beach. And I did not jet off to Europe for a little mid-semester fun. In fact, I didn't even leave the East Coast. I went home to New Jersey where I had a chance to spend some time behind the wheel of a car.

I don't have a car at the University. All Charlottesville drivers should be thankful for this.

I am, quite possibly, one of the worst drivers the world has ever seen.

It started when I was 17 - the legal driving age in New Jersey. For two months, I practiced driving with my dad in the passenger seat, holding his breath and occasionally grabbing the wheel and steering us away from certain death. I made careful loops in parking lots. I crept alongside streets and even tried to dart into oncoming traffic.

When the day came to take my driving test and get my license, I knew I wasn't ready. I was going to be a menace on the road.

Somehow, I passed anyway. (This may have been because my father, the local police chief, flashed his badge at the hapless, disheveled DMV worker.) And since then, I've been at war with every other car on the road.

I racked up three accidents in my first three years behind the wheel. Only one of them involved an actual moving object. Unfortunately, the moving object was a police car. I plowed into one of the policemen on my father's staff. It was not a shining moment for me.

My other exploits behind the wheel include a trip onto the left, rather than the right, side of the road with several of my friends during my senior year in high school.

But as bad as I am when the car is in motion, my real problems come when it's time to slow down and park.

One of my aforementioned accidents came when I pulled into the parking lot of a supermarket where I was employed as a cashier. I slammed into the side of the butcher's car. I have never felt fear like that since then. If you're going to hit someone, it's preferable not to slam into the car of the man who wields very large knives and slices up bloody hunks of meat for a living.

It's little wonder that no one at school ever really seems too upset that I am always without vehicle. I don't think anyone ever would want to ride with me anyway.

Despite all these unfortunate incidents, whenever I am home, I continue to soldier on, driving when necessary but almost never voluntarily.

In doing so, I have discovered several differences between the motorists of New Jersey and those who traverse the fine streets of Charlottesville.

In Charlottesville, people tend to stop for pedestrians. They let them cross the street. They don't attempt to run them down. They do not scream and curse and honk at joggers who dare to enter the roadway.

Heaven help any errant New Jersey pedestrians that dart into traffic. No one will yield. Occasionally I forget this and find myself coming dangerously close to disaster after absent-mindedly meandering into the street.

The difference in the behavior toward pedestrians is just one example how both drivers and people in Charlottesville tend to be a little more friendly and a lot more polite than those up above the Mason-Dixon line.

I will never be a real Southerner. My parents were born in New Jersey. I was born in New Jersey, and I've always lived there. But part of me is glad that in some ways, Virginia has become my home.

There is truth to the stereotype of the ill-mannered, selfish, money-grubbing Yankee. While it isn't true to the extent that some feel it is, I have noted that there are distinct differences between the two areas.

So, if I ever get a car in Virginia, I will slam on my brakes when I encounter pedestrians. But if I hit them, they should know that it's not because I'm rude. It's because I can't drive.


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