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Stop signs and roundabouts

February 11, 2010

The stop sign is a funny beast. The four-way stop sign is even funnier, iffin you find vehicular intersections at all funny.

When one finds oneself at a Californian stop sign it is proper to, well, stop (I’ve never come across a Californian stop sign outside the State of California so can’t comment on their behaviour outwith the State. I have however, met a wandering Kiwi stop sign, his name is Jamie, turns out he’s quite nice, really good at catching crayfish.). The funny thing is though that no-one actually stops, they (and now I) perform what is known as a Californian roll (I realise now that you are probably thinking of sushi, but in fact there are no fake crabs harmed in the making of this particular roll) which involves the slowing down to a speed determined by the individual driver’s individual sensibilities and how many people are watching, and if they at all care, some people tap their brakes slightly to simulate a stop-like jerk, before (and here is the cruncher) rolling through the intersection as if nothing had ever happened. Problems start to arise when one or more vehicles (I would normally at this point have used the word cars, but as we are talking about California, I can’t bring myself to call the motorised shipping containers that are the norm for doing the groceries and such, cars) arrive at the intersection at the same moment. Officially (I believe) the vehicle on the right has the right of way, or whichever got there first, or whichever driver is in the biggest rush, or has the biggest shipping container. Normally in this situation there’s a lot of pointing and waving as people try to dance their way through the intersection without scratching their immaculate paintwork on someone else’s slightly less immaculate paintwork, or as would be the case with our little red car, completely flattening the other person (although I get the distinct impression that this is the least of their concerns. And when I say little in reference to our car, it’s not actually that little and would probably be a rated as a medium-sized car in pretty much anywhere other than here). So, when one finds oneself safely through a vehicle-infused stop sign, one is generally relieved at having either; not been caught by the law for failing to stop completely, or when other vehicles are present, not having squished or been squished by the other vehicle.

Roundabouts however, well, they’re like the 150-year-old single malt whisky of intersections compared with stop signs are they not? I love a good roundabout, me. Apart from some of those big ‘uns at the end of motorways over there in the Uk, some of them are crazy double-decker, traffic-light-controlled mega circles fit only for the insane and/or stupid. If working properly, and during medium traffic levels, a nice roundabout is just  like going round a particularly nice corner – I personally like to think of them as well-designed chicanes on a racetrack. Sometimes, I admit, you have to wait for a second or two (woop-de-doo) while there are other cars coming round but hey, it does us good to learn a little patience, right? The rules are easy; if no-one’s coming, go, if there’s someone there or about to be there, wait and go after them, simple (or so you’d think).

The reason I bring this up (I know you’re wondering) is because there have recently been several rather nice roundabouts installed on my regular route to the park where I take the dog. Yippee, I cried, when I realised there were three fewer stop signs for me to dance through, thus lowering my stress levels before my walk, increasing its value almost twofold. Well, what I thought was going to be a nicer drive has now turned into somewhat of a real-life excercise in dodgem driving. I usually find that by signalling people are made aware as to which way I intend to turn (unless, of course, Lex is co-pilot, in which case I’ve got to keep up with her being directionally challenged; Lex – “left”, me – “your left, or my left?”, Lex – “oh, ok, right!”), therefore preparing them for my next maneuver. On the other hand, (and this, I believe, goes back to the days of bigger/shinier vehicle stop sign priority) some people apparently believe that roundabouts are merely there to slow everyone else down, thus allowing them to race through uninterrupted by such nuisances as other vehicles. On an almost daily basis I find myself being cut-off by psycho Soccer Moms and frustrated by over-yielding grannies. People either go straight through without a care in the world, or stutter around waving everyone on ahead of them much to annoyance of anyone who happens to be following them in a little red car.

Now, I’m not suggesting we turn Chico into the American version of Canberra “The Circle City”, the only city in the world where roundabouts outnumber Starbucks by two-to-one, because no-one would be able to get anywhere. I also realise that due to the strangely recent introduction of the roundabout to this part of the world people haven’t had the required time to get used to them, maybe it’s genetic and will take generations, lets hope not, for my sake. I also know that whenever an American tourist lands at Glasgow airport and rents a car, the guys at the rental desk take bets on how many times around they’ll go before successfully getting through the first roundabout.

I think I’ll write to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles (pronounced “veee-hickle”)).

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