06 Sep Things I Love About Bend, Oregon: Volume 2- Strangely Courteous Drivers
For at least a year or two after I moved from New York City to Chicago in 1997, I thought the Windy City was a really friendly place. Women seemed more approachable and open. Strangers made eye contact, some even nodded or said hello. And you could usually find a fellow driver who would let you merge into their lane when you needed to. I lived in Chicago for about eight years spread across three stints and by the time I left in June of this year, the place didn’t seem so friendly.
Midwesterners are generally affable but living in a big, congested, stressful city that has a six month long winter puts people on edge. How “nice” can you be when you live in a big, urban jungle? Not very. I hope this impression doesn’t wear off but I think people in Bend are nice. Very nice.
How nice? Drivers actually go out of their way to yield to pedestrians and cyclists here. Seriously. I’ve had occasions when I’m not even in the crosswalk yet and I see a driver just sitting at the intersection, waiting for me to approach, so they can yield to me. And I’ve had other occasions when a driver doesn’t see me approaching on foot and then when they do at the last moment, they slam on their brakes to let me go in front of them.
All of this is doubly delightful for us because we spent most of the summer in Peru and Chile. Chilean drivers are generally OK but in Peru, especially in big cities like Lima and Arequipa, drivers habitually blow through stop signs without even slowing down and even if there are children, old ladies or livestock in the middle of the crosswalk. They’ll honk the horn at you to indicate, “Get the fuck out of my way,” and if you don’t run across or back up out of their way, someone you’re the asshole, not them. I encountered cab drivers who had blown through stop signs and then yelled insults at me for not scurrying out of their way quickly enough.
Coming from Lima to Bend is like traveling from one galaxy to another. When someone yields to me as a pedestrian here, it brings a smile to my face. And the polite driving is contagious. People stop for you, so when you’re behind the wheel you find yourself looking for pedestrians to yield to. So if you’re out walking and you see me driving around Bend (I have a grey, 2004 Toyota Matrix), please walk in front of my car. I’ll stop for you. I promise.
UPDATE: Let it be known, for the record, that my wife isn’t necessarily in lock-step agreement with this post after a recent incident in NE Bend in which two concerned citizens yelled less than kind things at her- “dumb bitch” and “dumb ass” for those of you scoring along at home-after she attempted to drive straight from a lane reserved for right turns. (Hey! We’re new in town. We don’t know where the hell we’re going!) I stand by my conviction that Bend drivers are still pretty damn courteous, all things considered. For now. But don’t you dare call me names when I do something stupid.