How to Drive Like a Local: Forced Courtesy

Imagine this scenario.

You are driving on a busy side street in one of San Diego’s many villages and there are cars following close behind you. Picture whatever street you’d like, though my mind automatically wanders to Date Street just east of Golf Course Drive in South Park, en route to I-5, SR-94 or SR-163.

You are a little distracted by the condition of the road and remember seeing a headline in the Union-Tribune the other day announcing that America’s Finest City will spend $700K to assess the fitness of its streets. As your right front tire drops into a crater-like pothole, you think to yourself, “Hey, Mayor Gloria, I’ll save you the money and trouble. These roads need A LOT of work.”

And for those of you who don’t know, the City of San Diego’s 2022 Budget includes the phrase: “Each neighborhood in San Diego deserves ‘sexy’ streets…”

Not kidding. At all.


I’d settle for smooth. Even silky. In fact, I think I’d prefer smooth or silky road to a sexy one. And why would you want to drive on a sexy street? Wouldn’t it be distracting?

What makes a street sexy anyway?

Okay, we’ve officially opened Pandora’s infamous box with THAT question.

So back to your drive. You mentally try to avoid answering what makes a street sexy when you notice a person standing on the corner of the upcoming intersection. All their body language says they intend to cross the road. They are standing on the edge of the curb, leaning forward, and looking in your direction, waiting for you to pass so they can move forward.

In my imagination, they’re on the southeast corner of Date and 29th Streets, waiting to walk across Date.

And, last but definitely not least, in this scenario you do NOT have a STOP sign.

If you are a recent transplant or tourist, you stay at your rate of speed, keep an eye on the pedestrian to make sure they don’t dart out in front of you and, because you do NOT have a STOP sign, you drive past the pedestrian and go on about your day.

In San Diego, while driving 35mph (or more) with cars following closely behind you, upon seeing someone standing on a corner who looks even the least interested in crossing your path, the correct procedure is to abruptly slam on your brakes and wave the now baffled pedestrian across the street.

You might think of this as “forced courtesy.” It’s a way of making yourself feel better by proving to yourself what a considerate driver you are.

Never mind the cars behind you. Expect that they will hit their brakes in time not to collide with your backside. Besides, it’s their job to be on their toes, alert for your capricious whims.

The walker will stare at you with something not far from puzzled annoyance. Being compelled to cross the road when one isn’t prepared is the adult equivalent of a child being shoved into the embrace of a least favorite relative. Like that uncle with the bad breath. Or the aunt who is an enthusiastic collector of something boring and insipid, like cocktail napkins.

The pedestrian will freeze, lizard-like, unsure of what to do.

And then pause, the way you do when that self-important friend of yours interrupts you to say something so dumb and irrelevant that you have to take a moment to recompose yourself.

The pedestrian will be certain something must be wrong with you, since you’d just stopped for no reason other than to let them, a perfect stranger, walk across your path. Your counterpart will wonder if you are planning to run them over once they step off the curb.

What is most important at this point is your commitment. You must remain stopped and gently but firmly tell the walker to get moving. This is no longer about courtesy, and was never about safety. This is about satisfying your ego. You decided to be considerate and, damnit, this jerk of a pedestrian had better honor that. And be grateful for it.

And so continue to pressure them to get moving. Don’t be surprised to hear a growing cacophony of car horns as the drivers behind you, not aware of your unilateral decision to disregard traffic laws, pressure you to get moving.

At that point, it will dawn on your counterpart that you must be a San Diego driver, and that stopping illegally to coerce random pedestrians to cross the street is just one of your quirks.

The pedestrian will give you an appreciative wave and walk in front of your vehicle, looking all the while to their right (i.e., away from you).

Don’t be surprised if one of the confused, impatient drivers behind you decides to tear around you just as the hapless pedestrian steps in their path.

The other driver will honk and, because they are busy staring into your vehicle to determine what’s wrong with you, not see the pedestrian until the last second and only narrowly avoid a needless tragedy.

You and the pedestrian will each look at one another, eyebrows raised to the top of your respective foreheads, puff out your cheeks and slowly exhale as if to say, “Well, that was a close one.”

As you drive off, you will yell to your counterpart, in as smug a tone as you can manage, “Can you believe that guy? Some people just don’t know how to drive!”


Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with another installment soon.

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