I believe that my constant frustration with driving in El Salvador does not have as much to do with individuals making what seem to me to be nonsensical choices as it does with those patterns attachment (in my mind) to cultural differences. That its not the driving I am complaining about is evidenced by how personally enraged I become over movements that only cost me about 3 seconds in the long run.
Driving has become a lesson in sociology for me, and on many occasions a vibrant representation of things that upset me much more than lost time.
Andy has begun dividing drivers into horribly insulting catagories, as it is easier to separate the drivers into teams than let the differences go. The categories are rude and innapropriate (like most of the things men say about other drivers). More on that later.
Here is a short list of behaviors I have trouble fully accepting.
1) Lanes do not exist, no matter what those pretty lines and dots imply. No matter how crowded a curve that has two lanes going around it, traffic will suddenly try to merge into the center around the curve causing a backup. I cannot explain this other than to speculate that it has something to do with “redondel theory”. There are many intersections with two lane turns, which I use on a regular basis. I dare not simply drive in my lane if there is anyone within 50 feet, as each and every driver will simultaneously use both lanes, bringing about the immediate need for hard braking. If everyone simply stuck to their lanes we could all fly around the corner together. But somehow it seems better and safer that everyone merge into the middle together.
2) The “Power Lane” in the redondel. When we arrived we heard people explain that the right lane of the redondel must yield to the left lane, but I refuse to accept that the center lane of the redondel actually has the right of way, especially if they are behind cars in the outward lanes. In application, everyone seems to believe it is true, and that the center lane is the “power lane”. This means ALOT to some people.
Any car to the left appears to have the right of way, hence, at each and every exit of most redondels there is a jumble of people who waited to the very very very last second to exit the power lane. They are now trying to make a 90 degree turn out of the center of the loop across 3 lanes, and normally with a look of righteous indignation, for every car that gets in his way. He held onto that power lane as long as he could, and now, still partially in it, is demanding his rightful take…of all other lanes in the loop, no matter the cost. I have seen people stop entire traffic loops for over ten minutes, while blocking three lanes to exit. Every american I know would just circle around if nobody let them in..since that only takes 45 seconds. But no such defeat is acceptable here.
In stark contrast I try to slip out of the redondel into the outermost (regarded as weakest and therefore normally empty!!!! YAAAYYY!) lane as soon as physically possible. The only trouble with the outer lane is that people are normally walking, parked or re-upholstering furniture, or selling fireworks, or maybe live iguanas in this lane (not kidding).
On the other side of the entrance-exit of the redondel, specifically the ENTRANCE, vehicles which technically have a free and open lane right in front of them (in fact they are already IN that lane according to the patterns painted on the ground), come to a complete stop and refuse to move forward in the lane they clearly own. WHY? They are trying to move directly into the left (power) lane, rather than forward in the perfectly good, empty lane they already possess (at least according to this pretty lines painted on the ground). Not kidding.
As a believer in lane possession I go around to the right of the person who is trying to merge into the left lane, take his unused lane, use it to get up to speed, and then merge into the left lane he is still waiting for. It´s a confusing thing to watch. I’m normally not a “lane stealer”, but “redondel theory” makes no sense to me at all. I’m sure that people freak out every time I do this, but it seems both legal and sensible based on my understanding of traffic. And the lack of anybody using that whole section of roadway.
But back to Andy’s stereotypes,”Silver Prado” is one of Andy´s hated catagories. Some people might translate “Silver Prada” to “self important bastard” but that would be rude. There are plenty of “self important bastards” in BMW suvs, and Mitsubishis, and probably many Prado drivers who are perfectly kind people. They are not the worst of the lot, they just take advantage of normal courteous people in a way that offends me. I felt a need to introduce the category to provide context for #3. without the silver prado guy, its hard his counterpart.
3) My main complaint is…….Lack of Outrage. I have become outraged by the lack of outrage in many people over much of the rude, unsafe, and life threatening behavior I see daily on the road. One easy example of extreme bastardism is that on three separate occasions in the last month, I have watched cars leap-frog up Avenida Jerusalem in the most absurd (but successful) manner. this leapfrog is more extreme than you think if you havent seen Avenida Jerusalem.
During a recent reconstruction, MOP was thoughtful enough to place decorative obstacles every 200 feet or so in the “emergency/bike lane”, to prevent its use for other purposes. They apparently at least thought they should do something about things such as scooting ahead of the line of traffic by using the bike lane. Nothing odd there. But with barriers in the lane about every 200 feet, knowing what I know about Prado guy, I still was not at all surprised to look in my rear-view mirror and observe a nice new car leap frogging along from the back of the long line of stopped traffic behind me. Yes… the car was going off the street into the bike lane, and then merging back into traffic just before each barrier. (?!). I need to add…. with GREAT EASE! Its not that he was doing this that should alarm you. Its that nobody was making it even remotely difficult for him. You may already have guessed that I muttered a hardy, “Aw hell no.” under my breath. (yeah…I care too much about these things)
His behavior did not surprise or enrage me. What enraged me is that each time he came up to a barrier, he would stick his smoothly tanned arm out, honk his horn, and without any visible objection, be immediately allowed into the lane of traffic. He would then slip around back into the emercency/bike lane and speed up (say… all of 8 cars forward) to the next barrier, and repeat the process.
Who are these people who let these fuckers in? What are they doing? Andy calls them “the Mandes” (His wildly innapropriate group#2, an an odd partnership with the Prado guy). Normally they are hard working men, who probably have less free time than the “silver Prado” group, but for whatever reason have some kind of mental block about standing up to a car with better paint than their own. Maybe a low self image? Maybe he knows this guys father blew away half his village a few years back and doesnt want any trouble…. I don’t know
But it goes farther. It seems to offend the people being taken advantage of to see a “Prado” foiled. As you may expect I am completely incapable of letting this guy in, and make great pains to position myself at his point of entry. Hell yes I block him. And with a psychotic smile on my face. Both Andy and I have received horrible taunts and shouts (SO WORTH IT, FYI), for blocking people who come up in the emergency lane, or who go otherwise commit hugely outrageous acts of “barging to the front”. But from whom? Not the Prado guys…..its the OTHER PEOPLE IN TRAFFIC!!! It seems the “Silver Prados” and the “Mandes” have formed a perverse alliance. they support each other. The guy in the little work truck does NOT like to see me acting a fool, making trouble with the nice guy in the BMW or Prado. Who the hell do I think I am!
Regardless of any of that, of course I held my ground, and looked right at him smiling. I not only held it at the first barrier he met me at, but I also blocked him until I thought I could make it to the next barrier before him, forcing him to either deal with me again, or get in line with everybody else. It was amazing how much this enraged not just him, but the other people around us. The person behind me let him in right in. In my mind she was compensating for my rude behavior. This is not a one time thing, this is every traffic jam I get in. Emergency lanes are for anybody who makes the inward decision that they are worth it. I would hate to be an emergency vehicle here….nobody and I mean NOBODY lets them in. hahaha.
4) Survival of the most rude and pushy?
If a driver is pushy enough, and in a rich enough looking car, even police officers bow down. They move cones to let them through where everyone else is stuck, allow them to drive on the wrong side and through barriers or accident scenes.
In one instance, I swear if my Spanish was better I would have asked a particular cop if he was going to run in to the coffee shop and get that lady (who he redid the cones for) a coffee, or just stand there looking useless. Not kidding. I mean, if she warranted readjusting everything in the middle of a nightmarish traffic jam, in front of everyone else who still had to wait, dont you agree she also deserved some coffee at least?
5) Compete lack of traffic enforcement (of use). There are sometraffic stops, but NOT for actual moving violations. Cops set up traps for illegal left turns, and roadblocks on highways. I think this is so that there is always a clear plan. I have seen cops shooting radar on the highway, but this is also as part of a team plan with a clear person in charge. But otherwise I mostly see traffic cops staring at traffic jams, watching all kinds of right of way violations and other unsafe movements while taking no action whatsoever. I have come to believe they actually have no authority to make their own independent observations or decisions. They must act solely as part of a predetermined action, not in response to observed behavior?
This of course is a huge and emotional topic for me, since as a former cop I have strong opinions about demanding more from officers and empowering them to act. I get mad seeing someone in a position of authority to improve a situation stand idly by, or worse, assist some dickweed in skirting the rules simply based on evidence of social status. That’s the opposite of both public safety, and justice.
It pisses me off. Traffc enforcement is a great equalizer in most situations. Its a chance to reach out and touch literally everybody on the road. It would be better to have no traffic officers visible than have them present and inactive. Just watching and permitting outrageous violations.
6) A huge difference for a North American driver…I cannot stress enough … Traffic flow is not the highest priority. If someone must stop to talk to a friend on the side of the road, there is no expectation that they pull over. There is an expectation that traffic will go around. This is because his conversation actually is more important than the flow of traffic. If someone is hungry and wants to eat lunch on the road, they will do just that. Eating lunch in the right lane? Go ahead. Traffic is expected to go around. Complainers are a bunch or rude jerks who think they are too good to swerve a bit to let a man eat lunch in peace. Not kidding.
I have accepted this difference to a certain extent. I have realized that it actually is a difference in priorities, and it irritates me less because it seems to apply accross the board more or less. (though it causes more traffic collisions and jams than anything else on the list, at least it is equal opportunity.
7) Security forces, and their complete disregard for human life. Nothing is more unsafe here than a bunch of rich people and their outrageously poorly trained security guards. Around the wealthier schools, most mornings, you can witness some outrageous driving behaviors. SUV caravans full of armed men speeding on the wrong side of the road, apparently to drop off one important child or another. This can only exist in a place where there is NO justice for kids that these guys run over. Yes…I have heard that they need to blast through or risk getting trapped by someone who wants to kidnap this kid. Whatever. I don’t are about that kid. I care about my kid. I would hope that other Salvadoran families also valule their own children over those of the upper crust, but somehow I don’t think they do, because the American School has not been burned down yet.
I’ve had them blast within inches of my own daughter (a child far more important to me than these strangers) at insane speeds, only to screech to a halt, jump out in unison, carefully the backpack on their male teenage charge, who then sauntered in without the slightest notice. The security guys have ONE job. Keeping this little bastard out of harms way. Cool. Can´t do that without pretending nobody else exists? And how is it that school security just watches calmly and says nothing?
I know its pointless to talk with school security, who wont even encourage mothers who are triple parked blocking the entire street to get a move on. The priority seems to be keeping your job, NOT being good at it, and prevention of fatal accidents is not what they are trained to do. I’m convinced the core is that people have way to much respect for class. People also have way too much respect for testosterone. They overestimate it, and treat it like gold.
To all the offended, please dont get to angry if you either drive a silver Prado or would rather let them in than get into a fistfight. I’m not mad at you personally. I’m an old lady on the verge of loosing my mind, so yes, I WOULD rather get into a fistfight than say nothing. Also, if you are rich…I am probably not talking about you, I do not hate rich people. I love them and they generally do alot of good for the world. Most people reading this know exactly who I am talking about though. If I am talking about you, well…..see you in the emergency lane.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll let people in ALL DAY. People trying to merge from other streets, people who want to change lanes, even people in Prados who want to change lanes, I will let them in. Sometimes you have to pass the slow people. Sometimes people struggle to get ahead, and who should judge? But there has to be some line that you don’t cross, where in the absence of enforcement, people at least express disapproval in some manner?
For all the complaining, guess what? I still like driving here better than the USA. Its true! I may not understand the rules, and I may object to half of them, but fighting your way into a redondel (on most days) beats endless red lights, and how often do you really get to see cops fetch coffee for old ladies stuck in traffic int he USA? (ok..he didn’t fetch the coffee).
End rant. Dont hate. Im just complaining about things I cannot control or understand. Expats do that!