Posted by Adam @ 3:20 pm on July 28th 2008

The US for Limeys, Part 9: Driving, Part I

Full speed ahead in our sporadic, but ever informative, Limey Guide to America.

Driving is the real American Dream. In our next Guide we will consider the American Rite Of Passage, the gastric bypass Road Trip, but firstly, a primer on driving in the US, essential reading before you set your pedal to the metal, lay your rubber on the road and, unless you paid extra for deluxe seat coverings, stick your ass to the vinyl.

As you have demonstrated your driving competence to the DMV, you will know that Americans drive on the other side of the road, like the French (it is always worth pointing this out). It is wise to remember this, at least until after the bars begin to shut, by which time your fellow roadusers will themselves appear to have forgotten it. Also, again like the French, they will view pedestrians with the same enthusiasm that traditionally greeted wandering lepers looking to offload a year’s supply of Watchtower magazine. The pavement is called the sidewalk and the road is called pavement; whilst this may seem confusing at first, in most places there is no sidewalk and, thus, what you’ll end up walking on will, in fact, be the pavement, which you will share with cars in much the same way that the early Christians shared the Arena, and lunch, with the lions.

Americans roads don’t generally have speed cameras. They do, instead, have an army of policemen, hiding behind bushes and local geographical features like fun-hating versions of the sexual predators your mother warned you about, steely-eyed and implacable dealers of tickets with hearts of stone and, one is often told in dark tones, quotas to meet before they dare waste time on less important matters such as locating the perpetrators of crimes which result in no net financial benefit to their local police force. You will hear many rumours of how to escape ticketing with an appropriate sob story, reference to military service or a prominently displayed sticker avowing your generous donations to police organizations. Ignore these rumours; if they worked, no one would ever get a ticket and traffic police would be forced into a life of prostitution or even be driven to the investigation of crimes of theft and violence. You can, it turns out, avoid speeding tickets by not speeding (which is unAmerican) or else throw the dice like a chain-smoking Vegas visitor from the upper Midwest wearing a wrinkled nylon loungesuit that perfectly matches the greying nicotine-stained moustache which has long since seamlessly merged with a riotous outgrowth of nasal hair. Sure, sometimes you’ll lose, but it’s worth it to look so damn cool.

Petrol will seem laughably cheap, regardless of how much it costs. It will be years before you learn to adopt the correctly agonised expression when petrol rises to half of the price that you paid for it in the UK ten years ago; imagine your fourth-level magic-user walking unknowingly 5 feet into a Gray Ooze before experiencing the dawning recognition that you’re going to need a new pair of boots, ones that come with a replacement pair of feet and you just spent all your money on scrolls of Magic Missile with a caster level of 3 for the benefit of the rest of the party, yes, those guys that are laughing at you now and miming being broke as you wonder about the costs of a Resurrection spell as you further dissolve up to your knees. That’s the expression. Fortunately, unless you are filling up in New Jersey (where the beneficent government have wisely decided that you yourself are not to be trusted with the task of safely filling your petrol tank with petrol so that you have to seek the assistance of the highly trained gas pump specialists to do it) you are not likely to have to interact with human beings; you just swipe your card and pump away*.

Your car will seem big. Americans will tell you of how they bought a smaller car because of the better fuel economy and will show you something that ought to have Kate Winslet on the bonnet while Celine Dion impersonates the production of catgut violin strings in circumstances where nobody remembered to first kill the cat as you consider that hitting an iceberg and dying in the freezing water might not be entirely the worst outcome. Whilst cars are often compared to penises, for Americans, they are actually always bigger than their owners think they are. Like penises, however, it’s the hidden costs of ownership that kill you.

In order to drive a car you will have to own or borrow one. Car salesmen in the US are so similar to those in the UK that one can only assume that they were all descended from the same primeval proto-salesman, a lonely figure cast out by his fellow cavemen for an epic lack of sincerity and an irritating tendency to collect a bunch of inferior rocks for barter simply to drive up the perceived value of the acceptably-formed rocks, a creature whose reproduction in the face of evolutionary selection would serve as supporting evidence for Intelligent Design if only its proponents held that God Hates Us All. Once you have bought a car it is, of course, essential that you tell all your friends how you suckered your opponent into giving you a great deal, stories which will be remarkably similar in tone to the stories the salesman tells as soon as you have left the showroom, except his stories are true.

Now you have secured a vehicle, your next mission is to drive it a long way (possibly to the tune of Celine Dion’s appalling cover of “I drove all night”, which if nothing else will create a same sense of fear and pressing urgency that will, in fact, keep you driving all night). That’s for next time.

*Insert joke about futuristic Japanese brothel here.


  1. Heh. Adam, cars are more important here than on that godforsaken island that spewed you into our midst simply because, unlike you Limeys, we can’t throw a rock across our country.

    Comment by James — 7/28/2008 @ 3:40 pm

  2. An addendum: the state of Oregon also prohibits the public from pumping their own gas. I’ve had several gas caps (the non leashed kind) lost by careless attendants over the years traveling through that state. Stupid socialist state government trying to mandate employment. Humbug.

    Comment by Cameron — 7/28/2008 @ 4:05 pm

  3. So does New Jersey. Only those two.

    Comment by Brad — 7/28/2008 @ 5:05 pm

  4. Yes, but our gas is cheaper in NJ.

    Comment by James — 7/28/2008 @ 5:23 pm

  5. So does New Jersey.

    And they still have about the cheapest petrol.

    Comment by Adam — 7/28/2008 @ 5:42 pm

  6. The differential between gas in New York and New Jersey is stunning.

    Comment by Cameron — 7/28/2008 @ 6:16 pm

  7. We water it down here…with our water.

    Comment by James — 7/28/2008 @ 11:45 pm

  8. Joisey water is a miracle of science.

    Comment by Adam — 7/29/2008 @ 6:51 am


    Comment by Jerrod — 10/7/2008 @ 8:57 pm

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