Changing Lanes

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(Taken from the south part of I-465. This is the White River rising from the rain)

I’ve a friend from high school who moved to Glasgow, Scotland in the early 2000s as a missionary associated with Calvary Chapel. He may or may not be a missionary anymore, and I would lean on the may not because his views, like mine, started to change when he listened to people who didn’t believe and when his father died. He and I returned to school at the same time. I went to Ivy Tech and transferred to Blackburn College studying Literature and Religion, and he went to University of Glasgow to study Literature and Philosophy. After I graduated, I wandered about the United States, and after he graduated he began work on his Phd while taking a position as a professor in literature. His wife is a professional photographer, and she will post her work on Instagram and Facebook while he takes pics from his phone. They both post their shots on Instagram and Facebook, and the occasional photo that does not involve their kids is Scotland’s weather. In Glasgow, the sun hardly shines, and when it does there is much rejoicing. More times than not there is rain, and my friend often remarks how dismal his life has become in the last fifteen years. Adding to the misery he can’t find the proper ingredients to make a decent Mexican dish, and if he were able there would be no joy because he’s damp. I’ve told him the weather sounds lovely, and I could do without constant sunshine damaging my skin. He dismissed my remark outright, and told me to do it for fifteen years then get back to him. Fair enough.

It’s been raining for the last three days with winds that cause the drops to fall at an angle. Everything is sopping wet, and the sidewalk going from my apartment to the van is a small lake. That’s the Southside mostly. The area is such a bowl that when there is constant rain there are flash floods. Not to mention that when tornadoes come, they mostly destroy the Southside because of that bowl shape in the topography. There are exceptions, and in the four decades I’ve been alive, tornadoes touched down north of Washington St. two times. The White River has risen tremendously, and we are five miles east of the bank. I’m not worried about the growing water. As close of a threat that can be, the most dangerous thing in Indianapolis in this weather are the drivers. Myself included.

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Every morning and every evening it’s the rush hour 500, but the fast driving doesn’t stop after rush hour—the amount of drivers decrease. I’m used to driving quickly and changing lanes while drinking my coffee or tea. In fact that’s how I learned to drive. When I took my driving instruction to get my license, my instructor had tremendous faith in his ability, and threw me into rush hour traffic going downtown to the 65/70 split on I-70 West. During regular hours the merging can be hectic, but it is manageable, but during rush hour the split is a bottle necking parking lot. Lucky for me when I find myself in an overwhelming situation, I disconnect from my emotions and become focused. I zipped through traffic avoiding being sideswiped by people who change lanes without their signal, and got off the interstate at the Pennsylvania exit. Downtown is just as intense during rush hour, but the traffic is significantly slower. The roads are still the same width as they were when the city was first built—similar to the streets of New York that have remained the same width since it was New Amsterdam in the 1600s. My instructor took me near Ft. Wayne and Alabama, and told me to parallel park with oncoming traffic. Obviously, I survived the ordeal, and I learned how to adapt to drivers who care for nothing and no one outside their car by becoming like them.

As righteous as I would like to feel about the goodness of my driving, I am just as much of an asshole behind the wheel as any driver in Indianapolis. Speaking for myself, though, I try not to be. One of the dangerous things that happen in Indy while driving on I-465 is other drivers will not let you merge even though they are supposed to by law. Semi drivers will do this as well, and there have been a few times they ran us off the road merging from Kentucky to I-465 East on the south part of the intrastate. There is absolutely no regard for life here, and the people shrug their shoulders proclaiming “This is Trump’s America!” as I ascertained from bumper stickers and stickers on the rear window. That’s what happens when the sun is out, but continues when the water is coming down hard and visibility is limited.

Ronnie and I have been planning on moving out of Indiana in the next couple years, and I started researching cities in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington near the coast. I would read the reviews varying from favorable to disgusted. One day, I decided, for kicks and giggles, to look up Indianapolis. I did not read any favorable reviews, and those negative accounts could be taken with a chunk of salt if they only came from people who moved here from out of state. Residents and new comers alike speak of Indy as hostile, violent, slack jawed, and proud of it. Yes, there are pockets throughout the city where people are good to each other and have strong communities, but, for the most part, the culture is full of assholes who voted for Holcomb, Trump, Pence, and other Republicans because they have a platform of, “God, and I hate Muslims, Queers, and critical thinking.” Now, with the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act many of these “god-fearing” supporters with preexisting health conditions are requesting their doctors to lie about their record. Good luck.

I did not realize how hostile my hometown was until I lived in Portland, OR. Living on Portland’s Southeast side, I never needed a car to get anywhere, and if I did have a car, I would still use public transportation. Portland has roughly two million people in the city, but most of them ride their bikes or take the bus. If you drive on I-5 north or south, you wouldn’t be able to tell because the interstate is always a parking lot. My first time driving on I-5, I was furious shouting from my wheel, “What the fuck?! It’s 11:00 why does it still look like rush hour?!” Ronnie looked at the entrance ramps, and answered my question, “Everybody is stopping so people can merge.” My anger instantly deflated. I noticed Portland drivers will slow down when I flipped on my turn signal so I could change lanes. I didn’t realize that, collectively, the town was genuinely nice enough to stop traffic so everyone could get in and go wherever they needed to go.

I couldn’t be angry about that level of kindness, and I was reminded of that when we watched a comedian from Portland. He talked about setting a timer at intersections, have a car stay put while the light was green, and watch how long it took for other drivers to create a cacophony of swearing and beeping horns. He said in Portland five minutes would pass before the stopped driver would get a tap on his window, “Hey, buddy, you doing ok? Do you need any help?” Of course there was laughter in the audience, and I laughed too. Besides Portland, I have lived in Chicago and St. Louis, and no driver is close to being that kind. But in Portland that niceness is the norm, and most people respond with passive-aggression when they’re angry. Passive-aggression is annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as getting shot or have jaw broken by brass knuckles. When Ronnie and I would hang out at the twenty-four hour coffee shop, Southeast Grind, I noticed some of the regulars would invite any homeless person they saw wandering into the shop where they would buy the person a cup of coffee and a sandwich. I’ve family here in Indy who write off the West coast as liberal and hippie dippy, but what’s so hippie and dippy about being kind to people regardless of what they believe, who they love, the color of their skin, or their economic situation? I like being that way, and I aspire to be that way by unlearning what they and my community taught me. Kindness and respect isn’t liberal or conservative. It’s being human, and I think many people here in Indy have forgotten that.