Monday, July 14, 2008

"Driving is driving me crazy" - New Jersey and a driver's woes

Blaring sounds of horns is not something you experience on US roads. But hey, we live in New York-New Jersey. Everything is fair in love and war and driving here. According to a recent survey, New Jersey drivers have been crowned the most rude drivers in US. I wonder if this is bad habit inherent in New Jersey people or they have been infected by the neighboring menaces - the evil influence of New York city drivers on the other side of the river! I don't know who is worse. But I have seen and experienced both the kinds. The ever-so-rushing New York city drivers and ever-so-rude and impatient New Jersey drivers. They give each other tough competition to prove who is worse.

The drivers here are unforgiving. It is assumed that even though there is no fault of yours, you will be honked at from behind when red signal turns green and your car is the first at the crossroads. You will be honked at, no matter what. Though your only fault is that you don't own a Ferrari and so you can not accelerate to 125mph in under 4 seconds and therefore they had to wait for that fraction of a second behind you. Yes, there are some real busy people around here. And there are some implicit rules of driving around here too.

My first experience of driving in New Jersey has been the most horrific of driving experiences I have ever had in my life. I was a newbie in driving here in US when I came to NJ for the first time and rented a car. It had been only a few days I had got my Arizona driving license and started driving here. Though people say that if you have driven in a place like Ahmedabad (Ahmedabad traffic is notorious and I have heard non-Ahmedabadis complain about it all the time) you are safe anywhere in the world, that is not true here! I remember renting a car from Newark airport, a fine Pontiac Grand Prix, and driving it down to NJ Turnpike. I had never driven on a freeway before and to be honest, I was initially dumbstruck and then totally panicked by the monstrosity of the traffic on NJ turnpike. And that was the first time I was using a GPS. Despite having GPS with me, I missed an exit three times consecutively. And I lost my way and got onto a road which was leading to the Newark port and the entire road was only flooded with heavy duty trucks. Mine was the only car on that road! As my favorite expression goes, "I was as scared as a wet kitten on a rainy night in a dark forest full of wolves" It can be called a result of my incompetence in driving or just the heinous NJ traffic, but I will never forget that experience!

As if the torture of driving amidst such drivers is not enough, another plaguing problem is parking in NJ. Even if you own a BMW worth 50 grand, you might have to park your car on the street near your home. Most of the apartment complexes in North Jersey area (once again, the pay off of being close to NY city) do not have alloted parking garages. So you have to find a place on a near by street. And for parking on a street, you have to get a parking permit from the authorities (Plead with them, show them a gazillions of proof documents and so on). And that too does not guarantee a place for you. If someone grabs your parking spot while you are happily watching a movie in a theater on a Saturday night, you might have to scuttle around the neighborhood to find a parking space for your car at midnight.

My bad experiences did not stop at me getting bitter towards all the NJ drivers. I had to suffer in the hands of authority as well. Like I always do. Or at least most of the times (I have heard complains about being so grumpy all the time in my blogs that I choose my words carefully now)
So this time the encounter was with the DMV in New Jersey. I had to transfer my license from Arizona state to NJ state and even though supposedly it was just a matter of a couple of hours on a Saturday, I chose a day long before my office was to start. I was very hopeful and almost certain that it will be a piece of cake as it is just a formality. Sometimes I feel like laughing on myself as to how naive I can become! It was indeed an absolutely wrong assumption.

The story goes like this. I went to the nearby DMV and stood in their one of queues which are chronically long in nature but were a lot shorter that day. Glad that after all it might turn out to be a good day, I went to one of the counters and confidently showed them all the proof documents necessary for transfer. A lady pretending to be very particular (and actually trying to avoid giving anyone a driving license in NJ) scrutinized my documents. And somehow she became convinced that I was a clear and present danger and a grave threat to the pedestrians and fellow drivers alike. Thus she decided to thwart my attempts of transferring my license to NJ state. The reason was given to me - bizarre, something I don't want to discuss here. They sent me to another office to amend some other documents and there I stood for 4 hours in queue. And the most ironical part is that these documents had hardly anything to do with my driving license. As if not giving me a license was going to cause a slide in NJ's top ranking of rude drivers. Ultimately that day, I could not get anything done. Neither the driving license, nor the other document.

Undeterred by the hindrances, I decided to try again at the same place, with the same document but with the hope of encountering a different person at the counter. But as goes with my luck, I got stuck with the same lady and was told to go back and correct the documents. Only difference was that this time she was referring to some other documents. So I understood clearly that she just wants to stop me from moving forward in the procedure. So this time I remained there, unyielding, fighting her with my own arguments mixed with pleading. Finally she got tired of listening to me and asked me to meet her supervisor. The supervisor was no different. She was also bent on not letting me walk out of the building with NJ license. She asked me several questions about my studies, University of Arizona, why I came here in New Jersey and so on. She just wanted to make one thing clear, 'Try as hard as you can, it is entirely up to me whether I will permit you or not!'. Some of her demands were, 'Get me a letter from the registrar of University of Arizona saying I am working here in New York city as part of my OPT' - as if UofA registrar was absolutely jobless and had nothing better to do than writing recommendation letters to people all around the world who wanted to obtain their driving licenses. Another suggestion came, 'Then why don't you go to New York and get a driving license from there instead of coming here?'. ( I wanted to slap her face and tell her 'Because I do not live in my office building. I live here in New Jersey. But looking at the delicacy of situation, I did not indulge in any such tempting activities.) To cut a long story short, after countless arguments, she finally took pity on me and allowed me the transfer of the license.

I restrict myself and remain short in my narration. Otherwise they will quickly turn from boring to unbearable and that will turn away my readers who are already few in numbers and certainly not increasing!

I will end the post by paraphrasing my friend Karthik's one of the quotes.

Referring to Banglore traffic, he once said to me, "I tried to survive them initially, but eventually I had to become one of them". I think I will also have to become 'one of them' !

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