One of the challenges of getting to know any new city is learning the unspoken rules of its roads. That problem is compounded exponentially by the quirkiness of San Diego drivers. Therefore, in order to reduce the chances of a misunderstanding, visitors and more permanent arrivals would do well to educate themselves as much as possible about how the locals operate.
Most drivers from elsewhere are accustomed to a predictable practice of changing lanes when travelling on the freeway. For the average transplant or tourist, lanes are to be crossed one-at-a-time, with enough space to do so safely, and only after communicating one’s intention with a turn signal.
For the local, though, each of these criterion is optional.
First, San Diegans treat their vehicle’s turn signals like EpiPens: only use them in case of an emergency.
In other words, to fit in with the locals, avoid your blinkers in all but the direst circumstances. And “dire circumstances” means – you want to get over into an adjacent lane but the butthead next to you either doesn’t care or doesn’t want to make room.
In that case, throw on your blinker as a signal to the butthead that you are about to cut them off.
Then cut them off.
On an unrelated note, San Diegans, and SoCal residents generally, refer to their freeways or highways with the honorific “The,” as in “The Eight-Oh-Five” or “The One-Sixty-Three.” As though these roads are the only entities by those names in existence. Or the only ones that matter.
The history of this linguistic tradition is that Los Angeles got the jump on most of the country by building freeways before The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was passed. Southern Californians named those roads according to their location, such as “The San Bernardino Freeway” or “The Ventura Freeway.” So there was a local tradition of giving roads important sounding titles.
By the time California reworked its road number system in 1964, the “The” habit was already established. Each of the previously charming names, such as “The Harbor Freeway,” were replaced by their numbered equivalents, as in “The One-Ten.”
This was in sharp contrast to the rest of the country where the roads were called by their given names. For example, I am from the East Coast, where Interstate 95 is as impossible to avoid as Interstate 5 is in the West. However, on the East Coast, Interstate 95 has only ever been called “Interstate ninety-five” or, for hurried speakers, “Eye ninety-five.”
So the newcomer to San Diego will be bombarded with references to “The Eight” and “The Five,” and have to resist the temptation to ask, “The Eight? Do you mean the novel by Katherine Neville? Or Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful collection?” and “Which five? The Jacksons or Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse variety?”
Anyway, back to lane changes.
A common place for lane-crossing commotion, in any city, is where a vehicle enters the freeway from an on-ramp and hopes to accelerate less restrictive speeds as soon as possible (i.e., get into the fast lane). Tourists and transplants will be familiar with using their turn signals and gradually working their way over, one lane at a time, until they reach the far left lane.
Rather than limit yourself to that inefficient practice, you’ll want to slice across all lanes, from freeway entrance ramp to the fast lane, on a sharp diagonal without stopping or slowing. The only issue is whether the drivers around you will force you to put on your turn signal before you cut them off.
Finally, reasonable drivers, when getting off a freeway, plan ahead and gradually move right from the fast lane to the exit ramp. For example, if you’ve ever been driving in the far left lane at high speeds in another part of the country, and became aware that you needed to take an exit in two miles, you likely started to work your way over to the exit ramp more or less immediately, one lane at a time, and made it onto the exit ramp without ruining someone else’s day.
Forget this habit.
Instead, stay in the far left lane until roughly a sixteenth of a mile before your exit. Then, throw on your turn signal (either the right or left will do in a pinch since no one pays attention to blinkers anyway), make a ninety-degree right turn, and travel perpendicular to traffic until you make it to your exit.
When others honk their displeasure, toss up a breezy wave to show that you forgive them for being uptight.
Remember, for San Diego drivers, the key is to create maximum chaos with every move.
Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with another installment soon.