In Los Angeles, I learned to drive. It’s something I’ve always taken great pride in. If I can drive in Los Angeles, I can drive anywhere, no problem.
In Los Angeles, driving is messy. It’s fast-paced. Other drivers are ruthless. And traffic is constant, not just a phenomenon limited to “rush hour.”
In Los Angeles, there really isn’t an alternative to driving if you want to go anywhere or get anything done. Suburban sprawl.
In Los Angeles, all the lanes are full, all the time. You cut into the one you need to be in at the last possible second. The frustrated honks herald your personal triumph: you’ve bypassed all those losers stuck waiting impatiently behind you.
In Los Angeles, everyone is always in a hurry. Good luck trying to change lanes in a pinch. You have to aggressively create your gap, another driver won’t do it for you.
And in Los Angeles, you pump your own gas.
Every woman for herself.
In Portland, I’m learning to drive differently. It’s a humbling process. I can drive here, but there are new rules to observe.
In Portland, driving is refreshing. It’s calmer. Other drivers are courteous. And traffic is consistent: At 7:35 a.m. it takes 14 minutes to get across the Ross Island Bridge from my house. Another eight until I pull into the kids’ driveway for work.
In Portland, there are alternatives: buses, tramways, miles of bike lanes, your own two feet in a pair of sturdy Birkenstocks. And destinations seem much closer and much more accessible.
In Portland, lone cars speed down the empty left-hand lanes while those needing the right-hand one wait, queued up for blocks. You can rush by and cut in like you would in Los Angeles—you won’t meet much resistance. But it feels wrong. Taboo. A hollow victory.
In Portland, even when people are in a hurry, they’ll let you into their lane. On the bridge, eastbound at rush hour, each driver stuck in the traffic you want to join lets in one car waiting hopefully at the on-ramp stop sign. You can always find a gap.
And in Portland, you don’t have to get out of your car to refuel. (Well, I do, because I have to pry open my jammed fuel door with a screw driver, but I’m an exception.) You don’t have to work out the technicalities of the nozzle or worry that you’ll accidentally push the button and buy premium instead of regular. You hand over your cash or credit card, and you’re taken care of.
Life is more communal here.