I have lost the will to live... There is no easy way to say it: driving in Miami has simply beaten the life out of me. Over the past 18 months I have run the commuter gamut of emotion including shock, anger, dismay, annoyance, misery, and flat-out fury.
Before I get into my most recent mental-state, let me just step back a second and provide a backdrop explanation of driving in Miami. You know, for those who have never enjoyed the...um...pleasure themselves. Let's take a look at the relevant players on the Miami driving scene: 1) the elderly -- always a joy to see 80-yr-olds with the huge blocky sunglasses behind the wheel who can't see above the dashboard. they are solid decision-makers. 2) the cabbies -- let's just say that the Russian and Haitian guys that make up the bulk of Miami taxi drivers are not quite as sharp as their northeastern compatriots. I learned this firsthand when, on one of my first commutes before my car had arrived from NYC, the cabbie turned back to ask me (sitting behind him diagonally) how I liked the city while simultaneously turning the wheel completely in the direction of his head turn, thus traversing across 4 full lanes at roughly 35mph, nearby cars be damned. He noticed my gasp and my weak forced smile, "righted" the ship, and continued to break a series of traffic laws as I actually directed him on which streets in Miami to take. He had no idea how to get anywhwere, and this is a recurring cabbie theme. 3) the rich - utterly, totally, and completely above the law, in their minds. 4) the locals - usually Hispanic in background, many locals are simply on tropical time. manana, baby, manana. what's the rush? ever? 5) everyone else, and by that I mean the texters, the tweeters, and the cell phone users. I am dead serious. 75% of drivers in Miami are doing one of these things while driving. Yes, I have seen it cause accidents. And yes, I am aware it is illegal almost everywhere else. But of course, not Miami. In fact, here's the list of countries where it's illegal: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom. Further, cell phone usage of any kind is illlegal in many states and almost all states regulate usage (by fine or outright ban) in some way. Except? Florida. WHY?? I can tell you in all seriousness that watching people zoom by on I-95 at 80mph while arguing with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the phone, or texting while holding the wheel with one pinky and only glancing up at the road scares me to death! I have never been afraid of driving in my life before...in fact, I relish the challenge that is Manhattan driving: it is competitive, it has unspoken rules, cabbies are incredibly deft and skilled, and it is actually safe - especially relative to the number of cars and pedestrians on the roads. But Miami makes me think it is only a matter of time before some complete idiot hits me through no fault of my own...and there will be nothing I can do about it.
So, moving on...there's more. Timed lights in Miami? Nope. If you catch a string of lights that actually keeps heavy commuter traffic flowing at snappy speeds, go buy a lottery ticket too, because it's that rare. More often than not, your light will turn green just as the light 20 yards ahead turns red. And yes, many cross streets are that close together. Speaking of green lights, can you guess what people do at green lights in Miami? If you guessed "immediately go," you'd be wrong. No, in Miami green typically means, "turn to the person next to you and finish your conversation, and then go," or "finish off that text, then go," or "apply another layer of make-up, and then go," or "pause to take another swig of coffee/milk/OJ, then go" (this one happened in front of me last week), or - my personal favorite - "simply stare directly at the green light and for no apparent reason whatsoever, other than to annoy everyone around you who actually has someplace to be, seemingly count out one-Mississippi...two-Mississippi...and then proceed forward at an absolute crawl."
Additionally, driver skill levels are an an all-time low in the Miami area. I respect the ability of NYC drivers, for example, to make bold moves that border on illegality yet are ultimately efficient, and thus probably justified. Driving in New York, one actually applauds those moves, and probably follows along if the opening is still there. It's a respected sport. Here? No such luck. I honestly don't know how people get driver's licenses in the Miami-Dade area. Looking both ways? Forget it. Parallel parking? Not a chance. Cutting off oncoming traffic with no regard for safety whatsoever? Hell yeah. Swerving across lanes - in fact, swerving across lanes and coming to a complete stop and thus stopping all traffic behind you for blocks and blocks until someone lets you in to make your turn? Absolutely - that happened in front of me this morning!! Don't believe me on any of this? Well, if you are ever in the area, just watch the evening news or pick up the paper, and count the number of fatal accidents that occur on Miami roadways... Frightening.
Part of the problem - I think - must be the element of "self-policing." Because, let's face it, the cops in Miami could care less about traffic violations. As a result, Miami drivers are basically left to their own devices. But then again, so are New Yorkers...so what's the difference? Self-policing citizenry, I say. Anytime someone does anything remotely stupid on a Manhattan street, somebody - pedestrian, bike messenger, fellow driver - yells out "yo, Moron...whaddayou doin'?" Horns honk, people glare. And the accused usually addresses the mistake. It actually works! But in Miami...horns never honk. People never yell. I mean, a car can flat out stop in the middle of a busy street, while cars flow around it (except those directly behind) like a boulder in a stream, and no one says a damn thing. It's unreal. There is a very tight turn in the heart of downtown Miami...people take it relatively fast...and knowing this, cars nevertheless just stop on either side of this turn (it's one way) to let people off for work, to say hello, to honk at a pretty girl. It's insane. I want to yell out "what the f*&k are you doing stopping there??!!" I want other people to join me. I want Miamians to start policing themselves. But this never happens. A Cuban guy I was in PT with shared an interesting potential explanation with me. In his words, many of the immigrants here are "savages" from Central America (HIS WORDS!) with no regard for anyone...add this knowledge to a prevalence of tinted windows...and incredibly liberal gun laws...and he says people fear correcting anyone else because there have been plenty of "shooting incidents" in the recent past. So instead, everyone stays quiet... Hmmm. I'm still a newbie, so anything is possible. He makes a good point though, so from now on I make sure the windows are not tinted and I can make a best guess as to whether the driver is packing heat before I start cursing...
I have saved the best for last, though. The absolute bane of my commuting experience: Miami bridges. Don't get me wrong...Miami is beautiful, and in its defense, it has probably grown well beyond anything its infrastructure can handle. I doubt anyone ever imagined this as a major metropolitan area with over 5 million people, many of whom commute to downtown. (This also explains why there is no easy route south to Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, and all traffic is channeled into a forced bottleneck of insanity called U.S. 1. Never, ever, drive on this road if you visit Miami. Use a GPS - whatever it takes - and stick to the side streets.) So, as a result of a lack of proper urban planning (I get the sense Miami just "sprawled" with time...there was probably no one laying out a grid, developing large avenues and boulevards like many northeast cities, etc.) one would think that Miami would make up for this deficiency by making sure lights were timed and other "simple" rules were followed. For example, here's an easy one - and this brings me back to the opening of this section and the most infuriating thing of all: how about "no boat traffic in urban areas from 7am to 9am." Yeah, you heard me right. "Boats in urban areas." Here's what happens: at the height of rush hour, on demand, Miami will raise a drawbridge for the most piddling of sailboats to the largest of yachts to head in or out of the Miami River... this process takes 15-20 minutes from red light (bridge up) to green light (bridge down) and does much worse damage than that considering the backlog of commuting traffic that develops. Some bridges you can work around, because if they open (if there's a boat), they open on the hour and the half-hour. Of course, the bridge outside my apartment (and yes, directly in my path to work - my only path to work) opened yesterday at 7:40am instead of 8:00am. Was there an emergency? Was it the Coast Guard? (Valid exemptions) Nope. This is another Miami specialty. The bridge was opened with a shrug and a "whatever," and the entire Venetian Causeway was backed up for 20 minutes for absolutely no good reason. Other bridges are just a game of chance. Sometimes they are up and you are screwed. Other times, no. There is simply no rhyme or reason that I can decipher. What I love, my absolute favorite, is when the Miami River bridge goes up for the retired guy headed out on his little sailboat for a day of fishing. Yup, he gets the right of way over the roughly 5,000 cars that end up stuck in a one square mile area. Unreal. In any other major city this is considered insanity. What's the solution? Hey Miami: You are no longer a sleepy little fishing town. It's not 1920. CARS SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY FROM 7AM TO 9AM AND FROM 5PM TO 7PM! Is this that difficult?
So yesterday I waited at one small bridge near my apartment from 7:40am to 8:00am...then I caught the tail end of the Miami River Bridge from 8:05am to 8:10am...then I caught the bridge up from 6:30pm to 6:45pm on the way home...and this morning? Yup - caught it again: 7:50am to 8:05am right smack in the heart of downtown.
There you have it. I give up. Miami, you win. I have nothing left. I have become one of the non-honking, non-moving, non-thinking drivers. Congratulations. But you'll never see me on my phone. That's just idiotic.