Drive Like You Mean It

A springtime pep talk for Providence drivers


People of Providence, we’ve got to talk about your driving. It’s atrocious.

Look, I’m not going to get up on my high horse. I make stupid mistakes when driving and at some time or another I’ve been guilty of every offense I’ll enumerate here. But at least I’m trying, which is more than I can say for many of you out there. You need to hear these things, and I come to you as one of your own.

It’s taken me a long time to identify why exactly the driving in Providence is so bad. Of course, there are any number of factors that contribute to the problem, from pothole-riddled roads to the general awfulness of Rhode Island drivers, but there’s something particularly terrible about the driving I see in the city, and I’ve finally figured out what it is: nobody drives like they’re in a city.

City driving requires aggression and precision. You have to drive like you mean it. There are cars and people and obstacles everywhere. The conditions are always shifting. It’s constant start and stop. And people have places to be. New Yorkers, of course, have this mastered: they’re impatient, ruthless, even downright hostile – but they’re g. A good New York driver might just as soon run you over as smile at you, but they’ll never be in the way. They drive with purpose. To be effective while driving in New York City requires you to accept the possibility that somewhere along your way, you may need to intentionally kill someone. You don’t want to, and you’ll do your best to ensure that only those who truly deserve it get hurt, but it might have to happen. That’s driving with purpose.

People in Providence do not drive with purpose. They drift. They hesitate. They rubberneck. They expect others to compensate for their mistakes. Then there’s the infamous Rhode Island Roll-out – oh, lord, the Rhode Island Roll-out. You know the move: you’re trying to pull out into traffic so you gradually nudge your way out in a passive-aggressive attempt to be just in the way enough that someone has to slow down and let you go. Just commit to jumping out there and get it over with. It’s much more dangerous for you to just be awkwardly lurking on the fringes of oncoming traffic than it is for you to take the decisive action of asserting yourself, even if it might be a bit less than considerate.

Providence is a tough place to drive, and it’s not going to get any easier. The potholes are so numerous and severe that they probably demand FEMA’s intervention more than Public Works’. The streets are not laid out in an easily navigable grid like New York’s – instead they seem to be arranged according to the terms of a dare. The traffic lights appear to be timed and controlled by the same sort of device found on a set of $4.99 twinkling Christmas lights from Walmart. What little signage does exist is about as useful to finding your way as the treasure map from The Goonies. The weather, as we have seen many times over this winter, invariably compounds these difficulties by claiming broad swaths of roads with snow and ice, then making them look like the aftermath of a mudslide when the weather warms up. The adverse conditions in which we drive every day demand a higher caliber of skill behind the wheel, but we seemingly interpret them as permission to simply pay no attention whatsoever to what we’re doing, alternating between unfocused, inept aggression and aimless drifting. Again, this is a city, and you need to get on your game people.

We’ve just made it through a tough winter. The Public Works’ crews will be out soon patching up the craters that we ironically call “potholes” (kind of like when you nickname a really fat guy “Tiny”). The conditions in which we drive will be, if not optimum, at least less reminiscent of set design for a post-apocalyptic action movie. So, together, let’s use spring as the time of renewal nature intended it to be, and get a fresh start on some new driving habits. Get o! the phone. Leave the Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee in the cup holder. Stop and wait your turn at busy intersections. Learn what the term “right of way” means. Use your turn signals. Pick a lane. Pay attention to your surroundings. In short, drive like you’ve been somewhere before. And, in the name of all things right and decent, just get out and make the damn turn already.