Having to learn another country's driving ways has been a chastening experience. First, there is the obvious difference – Americans drive on the right. And the steering wheel is on the left. I once had a truly surreal moment, when I got into the car and fumbling for the ignition, realised uneasily that something wasn’t quite right. Then I looked around me. Someone had stolen the steering wheel. It took me several seconds of mounting panic to work out that I’d got in the passenger seat. I still can’t approach my car without thinking hard and hoping nobody spots me changing sides.Then, to complicate things , the rules are slightly different. For example, you can turn right at a red traffic light. This may sound like a great idea but unless you’re born and bred to it, it can be a poisoned chalice. As a newcomer, I revelled in the thrill of driving through a red light – rather like a first teenage kiss – but forgot I also had to check there was nothing coming.
And there are more hazards in store, among them the school bus. Now it's September, these yellow monstrosities are back everywhere on the roads - America’s equivalent of the sacred cows that wander India’s streets and woe betide anyone who gets in their way. The rule is, when you see a school bus flashing its red lights, just stop. Never mind whether you’re a yard away, a hundred yards, ten miles away, just stop. This is to allow children to develop a false sense of security as they charge blindly on and off the bus, knowing that all the traffic’s frozen around them. I’ve never seen a single child actually looking to left and right. As in, just in case, you know?
I've also begun to see why obesity is such a problem here. These buses stop at every single house. The children of modern America can’t even walk to the end of the street. It seems I'm not alone. An impassioned letter from a school bus driver in the local paper put his side of the story, which, as I recall, went something like this: "I know we're the most hated people on the road. But it's not our fault. Try telling the parents were stopping outside one house and not another..." Consequently I get stuck behind the buses, late, frustrated and germinating tender thoughts about King Herod.
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