L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 285, August 22, 2004
Maybe we should have simply started speaking Mandarin?
Cruising in the Keystone State
Special to TLE
Perhaps the hardest part about my recent move from New Jersey to Pennsylvania is trying to tell friends and relatives how to get to my new townhouse. This has more to do with Pennsylvania roads than anything else. They're beyond comprehension. They make no sense. It's like the expression, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." Friends shouldn't ask friends to drive in Pennsylvania. Anyone who asks his friends to drive in Pennsylvania probably isn't a real friend.
Now, understand that driving in Jersey isn't always a piece of cake. Some of its roads can be super confusing if you're coming from out of state. Take jughandles, for example. Ever taken one? If you have, you probably think it's a dumb question. But it isn't. New Jersey is the Land of a Thousand Jughandles; I can say from experience that some folks don't even know they exist. Believe me. I've seen them. I've seen the fear in their eyes when they realize that, no, you can't make a left turn from the left lane, that you've got to get into the middle lane, then the other middle lane, then the right lane, before the light turns red, if you wish to turn here.
In an ideal world, judhandles would be a reasonable alternative to left turns on busy highways. But this isn't an ideal world. It's New Jersey. It's crowded. And since you need a traffic light every time you have a jughandle, you only end up making busy highways busier (read: slower, less safe). On top of that, what really kills the jughandle is inconsistency. Sometimes you have them. Sometimes you don't. And you never know until you get there. What a strange way to make driving more secure.
Still, if it's consistency you're after, you won't find it in Pennsylvania.
Now, look, I don't want to be the guy who moves to a new town and talks about his old town till his tongue falls off. I especially don't want to be the guy who talks about how much better his old town was. Locals find that guy annoying. Hell, I find that guy annoying. If the place you came from was so much better, you should've stayed there.
The jury's still out on whether New Jersey is, in fact, better than Pennsylvania, or vice versa. That's a pretty silly thing to talk about anyway. But one of the things I like best about the Keystone State is its simplicitysomething my homeland has in short supply. When I tell people I moved to Pennsylvania, they immediately think I moved to a farm. They're wrong. I live just outside Philadelphia. It's not a lot different than Jersey. But I like that that's the impression they get.
And it's true: Beyond Philly, Pennsylvania's got a much different spirit. It's freer. It's closer to the Mason-Dixon. I like that. That's what I'm after. But I'm starting to think the only reason it's wide-open and empty west of Philadelphia is because no one can figure out how to get anywhere.
To put it bluntly, the roads make no sense.
First of all, half of them aren't even labeled. I'm serious. I moved to a town where the streets have no name. You're just supposed to know where to turn. And if you don't know? Oh, well. You're in Pennsylvania now. People drive slow here. You have all the time in the world.
I swear, you need The Force to get anywhere in this state. A map won't do the trick. You need the ghosts of Ben Kenobi and Yoda sitting on your shoulder. Every time I go some place new in Pennsylvania, I spend the afternoon making k-turns, heading back towards roads I missed becausesilly meI'm not all-knowing. Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," and I can usually be counted on to follow his advice.
Then there's the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike starts in the west near the border with Ohio. The first exit is Exit 2, which was called Exit 1 until they decided to rename the exits with milepost markers to make things "more convenient and helpful." Then there's the second exit, which was never called Exit 2not even when the current Exit 2 was called Exit 1. The old Exit 2 was the third exit, which we now call Exit 13. The second exit used to be called 1A, but now it's called 10, and it puts you onto Turnpike 60, which crosses over the road you originally thought was the Turnpike, which is actually called the Turnpike Mainline. The Mainline consists of I-76, I-70, and I-276. I think. And it runs all the way east until it reaches the Delaware River. I have no idea where Turnpike 60 goes. My guess is it goes straight to Hell.
Things get tricky again nearer to where I live. The old Exit 25 is now Exit 333. That's the exit for Norristown. The old 26 is now 339, and that's for Fort Washington. Between 333 and 339 we have the new Exit 20, which used to be 25A, which puts you onto I-476, which is the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeastern Extension. People in northeastern Pennsylvania call the Northeastern Extension "the Pennsylvania Turnpike." Somehow there are several Pennsylvania Turnpikes. They coexist. Pennsylvania is a multiverse.
Meanwhile, the new Exit 20 sits between 333 and 339, which isn't exactly "convenient" or "helpful" mathematically. But you know, I've always believed each state is supposed to be like its own little country. So maybe those words lose their meaning in the interstate translation.
Let me tell you something. New Jersey is known for its tough, antagonistic driversfolks who can fend for themselves on any road, anywhere, at any time. So as far as that goes, I can't say I feel bad about asking my friends and family to visit me in my new home. But just because Jersey drivers are aggressive doesn't mean they're inhuman. They're real people with real feelings. They're as likely to lose their minds driving through Pennsylvania as anyone else.
I can't believe I just called them "they." I guess it's official. I'm a Pennsylvania driver now.
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