Coast 2 Coast: The finer points of nice
My sister Diana bugged me for over two years to move from Pennsylvania to Oregon. I don't think she was out here more than a week and every time I called she would ask, "When are you moving out here?"
My family is originally from Queens, New York, but I lived in Pennsylvania for most of my adult life, having spent 23 years there. I honestly didn't see myself ever leaving, but Diana was giving me the hard sell, telling me about how it rarely snowed in Oregon and didn't get cold, how I could bring my dog into the grocery store, how there were thousands of amazing restaurants, parks everywhere for hiking and trail running, how the whole state was bicycle friendly, and since I was recently divorced, how the place was teeming with single, cute, liberal guys. (She failed to mention the whole beard thing going on out here).
So on Aug. 25 I packed up my 2010 canary yellow Camaro with the few personal belongings I didn't sell, put my 8-pound dog Foxy on my lap, and headed west. I was ready for a change — and based on what my sister had been telling me about Oregon, I thought for sure I would love it.
Somewhere in the middle of the desert in Wyoming, while talking to Diana on the phone, she warned me, "Now look, the people out here, they aren't going to get your sarcastic sense of humor; they are really nice and you need to be nice too." I insisted, "I am nice." She said, "You are nice — for a New Yorker — not for a regular person." Ouch. I asked, "Um, why didn't you warn me about this before I moved all the way across the country?" She reassured me, "Don't worry, you will find your people. Eventually."
I was not reassured. I thought, "How nice could these people really be?"
It didn't take me long to find out. Driving in Oregon it became immediately apparent — Oregonians are very polite. So polite that I found myself yelling things like, "Why are you stopping in the middle of the Interstate to let someone in front of you?! It's the Interstate — there is no stopping!"
Everywhere I drove, it became obvious that Oregonians do not consider driving to be a blood sport. And despite the traffic, no one seems to be in so much of a rush that they aren't willing to slow down and let you get in front of them.
The way I learned to drive was "defensively." Everyone is the enemy and you shouldn't let anyone in front of you, don't let anyone pass you, don't let anyone get there before you. It's an East Coast thing. You can't let the drivers around you know that you are trying to change lanes because they won't let you change lanes if you do. We don't signal because we would never get anywhere if we did. You don't let them know you want to move over; you gotta take 'em by surprise, just look for an opening and cut over as fast as you can.
Last week I was driving in downtown Portland and I needed to get over into the right lane, but it was rush hour traffic and the roads were packed. My friend, who was with me and who is a local, suggested that I put on my turn signal. I looked at him like he was crazy and explained that I couldn't do that because no one would let me in. He then looked at me like I was crazy and said, "no, really, do it; they will let you in."
So I turned on my blinker. And they let me in. Just like that. I felt like I learned a new magic trick.
Yesterday I was in a shopping plaza parking lot, in line at the light to exit, and there was a car trying to get into my lane to exit as well. Instinctively I crept up closer to the car in front of me so this guy couldn't force his way in. I then looked in my rear view mirror and saw the car behind me didn't follow me, but was going to allow this car to get in front of her; I swear there was a look of disappointment on her face and I felt so guilty! When the light turned green, I hung back and allowed that car to pull in front of me. The driver and I waived; I looked in my rear view mirror and the woman behind me was smiling. I thought, "I did it! I was nice!" I immediately called my sister to brag.