Chicago Culture – The Road

So you know how the United States of America is all one big happy family (except for Texas, parts of Northern California-aka State of Jefferson– and even the northern part of Maine)? Ok, maybe we’re not, but we’re still ‘Mericans and we all have the same culture, right? Going from one big city to another is like changing from a pair of Gap jeans to a pair of Old Navy. May fit a little different, but, basically the same. In regards to language, and basic traditions, sure, we all do Thanksgiving, and put lights up at Christmas and go all pyro on the 4th of July. In terms of local rules and customs…no. So allow me to describe in one word, how the rules of the road work here in Chicago: “Free-for-all.” Ok, I don’t know if thats technically one word or three, but I put dashes and no spaces so that it looks like one word. Here’s why:

Crossing the street: Did you ever play Frogger? If you didn’t, you can click that link and give it a go. If you don’t want to pretend to be a frog, come to Chicago, and you can be one of the trucks or cars that goes after the frogs. Crossing against a light is one thing, or not crossing at an intersection, totally get it. Used to do it all the time in SF. I feel it’s pretty commonplace in any big city to wait for a clear path and then go. Apparently, its that whole “waiting for a clear path” thing that has people in Chicago confused. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen chillin in the middle of two lanes headed in the same direction just waiting for the traffic to ease up. As a driver, it’s very unnerving. What happens if the person is drunk or high or like me, just tends to lose all balance while standing and falls in front of your car? They die, your bad? Its not isolated to a specific neighborhood, I’ve seen it happen everywhere and I don’t really know if its something I’ll ever get used to. One thing I am sure of, if the road isn’t clear, I’m not wandering out into the middle of it to wait it out.

Red Lights: I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the unwritten rule in LA about turing left at an unprotected intersection in LA, I’ve been told by a few people, it’s a 4 car padded time period. So once the light turns red, four cars are allowed to go through and its standard operating procedure. Yes, it’s illegal, no, i’m not saying thats the official law, but if you wait until everything is clear and pretty and someone extends you a personal invite, you’re never getting across. Here in Chicago…that rule kind of applies, but for everything. Turning right, turning left, going straight through an intersection and I swear I’ve even seen it at a stop sign. Yes, red lights be damned in this city, you’re merely a suggestion, and a rather poor one at that. Due to the massive amount of six point intersections (happens when you lay your city out on a rigid grid, then put diagonal streets everywhere, more on that later) a red light runner can come from anywhere at any time. It’s a little scary. The green walk sign, is really more like a “wait a minute, that car 100 yards away is coming” suggestion sign. But…since people don’t care here…they cross anyway.

Parking: All along quiet residential streets in Chicago, peacefully parked cars can be found under trees, just waiting to be taken on the road for some fun or shopping or…mirror repair? Yup, if you park on a side street and you have a car that has a folding side mirror, better tuck that puppy in, or kiss it goodbye. Along with running red lights and playing Frogger with pedestrians, the people of Chicago don’t know how wide their cars are…If you were thinking you’d buy a car with a nice set of wheels to be all fancy, I hope you’re parking in a garage. I’ve found that you really can’t be close enough to the curb here. Like San Francisco, busses zip down two way streets that should be restricted to horse and buggy traffic, but are lined with parked cars and sinkholes. I consider myself an excellent parallel parker, living in SF for so long really forces you to do it quick and dirty, you really are just trying to get it in…the car that is. In Chicago…you have to be quick and dirty about parking, and if you’re not kissing the curb by the time you’re done, you’re kissing your mirror goodbye. So far, mine is intact, but it doesn’t fold, so I think it will only be a matter of time before Maxwell has a brush with cosmetic damage.

Toll Roads: If you’re going to F*ing charge me to drive on your damn roads, at least make them nice. I’m not saying that the bridges in the bay are nice or even well maintained and people pay a fortune to cross them everyday. However…it’s a bridge, suspended over water, maintenance really can’t be all that cheap or easy. Here…the roads are flat…like, real flat, and on the ground. And yet, I get off the freeway with my kidneys in my throat every time I make a run to Ikea. Its a pet peeve I suppose and really a princess problem, as all my problems are, but damnit! I miss the silk roads of Nevada. Maybe we should legalize gambling here. I’m sure there wouldn’t be any corruption or crime at all because of it…right?

In Chicago’s defense…Lake Shore Drive. San Francisco…you got owned on that one.


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