Driving you crazy

For every square mile in Nevada there are some 19 people.

For anyone who has ever driven south to Tonopah, but not farther, that may be hard to believe. Passing an endless sea of sage-covered flats, with towns with populations of 100, it's hard to imagine running into 19 people every mile or so -- until you reach Las Vegas. Here the sea of humanity swells to Nevada-size tidal wave proportions.

For us natives though, Nevada's stretches of tumbleweeds and dustdevils are akin to the baked-cookie-smell comfort of home.

What many don't consider though during these marathon trips is the drive.

Nevadans' time spent on the road, the wind in our hair, the tunes on the radio, is at polar opposites to our fellows on the eastern seaboard, say in New York where only 25 percent of those who are physically able possess a driver's license.

For many a Nevadan, it's not even an adventure to hop over the Sierra Nevada to see San Francisco, or cruise east to see the Ruby Mountains. Three, four, five hours in a car is barely mentioned. It's just no big thing.

New Yorkers "vacation on Fire Island, because no cars are allowed. They tend to travel east to London, Paris or any other European city with a good subway system instead of heading west, say, to Utah or Wyoming or Nevada, all of which have long highways and no Yellow taxis," said a recent story in The Washington Post.

Nevada's long highways would scare 75 percent of driver-eligible New Yorkers nearly to death. The Post's story called driving in New York unnatural. In the story, one 30-year-old woman said, "There was something gauche about having a car. It was so -- suburban." Another man had had a learner's permit for 17 years. Others show up each year for late-spring tuneups. "They have licenses but have never used them and now need to get to the Hamptons," said the story.

I'd like to see them walk, hail a cab, use a subway card to cross Nevada. They'd probably have better transportation luck using a thumb.

In Nevada, driving, the ability to drive, reaching the ripe old age of 16 and attaining a driving license is a rite of passage.

I didn't get my driver's license until I was 20 and was nearly an outcast. And I lived in a city with public transportation.

Like most, I learned to drive on the farm, my grandparents' in Washington. There it didn't matter if you popped the clutch. You try driving a tractor and not pop the clutch. There was no need to stay between the white lines and no use whatsoever for blinkers.

This is how I know most drivers learned to drive on a farm. They've no idea what those blinking lights mean or when or where to use them. Those who use them think turning on the blinker means it's OK to turn regardless of the traffic surrounding them. Those who don't use them turn at will anyway, anywhere anytime. They're the only ones on the road.

My friend, who a year or so ago watched the roundabouts in London in quiet fascination. told me that "over there" they jump bump each other out of the way. Everyone has crumpled fenders.

Can you imagine?

Crumpled bumpers? Not in America, where many of us are defined by our cars. SUV: soccer mom. Sports coupe: single and available. Pickup truck: cowboy or off-road enthusiast.

The Associated Press last week reported there are more cars, 204 million, than drivers, 191 million, in the U.S. That's a lot of rubber meetin' the road.

The same story reported that 8 percent of American households don't have cars.

If 75 percent of able-bodied New Yorkers, of which the census says there are more than 8 million, don't drive and don't have a car, what's that mean for us 2 million Nevadans with an affinity for the road?

Something to think about the next time you hit the road.

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor for the Nevada Appeal.


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