On Driving and the Rules of the Road
Q: I live in Arkansas but recently visited Port Aransas with my family for our summer vacation. We had never been to the Texas coast and were really looking forward to the trip, but it turned out that what could have been four beautiful days on the beach were marred by all the traffic! On the beach! Why on earth is driving allowed on Texas beaches? It’s not safe.
Little Rock, Arkansas
A: The Texanist is glad that the Porters were able to escape their home in landlocked Arkansas and enjoy themselves on a nice stretch of the long, sun-drenched, and beautiful Texas coastline. There’s nothing quite like the restorative effects of that salty Gulf air on both the body and soul, as you are now surely aware. Did you kick off your shoes and let that fine Texas sand work its warm magic on the old dogs as you reclined in your beach chair, sipping a koozie-clad Mexican beer with a little salt and a wedge of lime, while the white gulls cawed to one another and the brown pelicans soared in formation overhead and the sandpipers skittered nervously along the edge of the softly undulating surf? Cures what ails you, doesn’t it? Speaking of the local fauna, it sounds like, in addition to these seabirds, you may have also been treated to a few sightings of the common Texas beach yahoo. These colorful beasts owe their existence, in part, to the Texas Open Beaches Act, passed in 1959, which at its core guarantees that “the public, individually and collectively, shall have the free and unrestricted right of ingress and egress to and from the state-owned beaches bordering on the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico.” It’s important to note here that the state owns the entirety of Texas’s 367-mile coastline and that while some of the aforementioned public do indeed opt to make their ingresses and egresses vehicularly, the beach yahoo stands out by accenting his arrivals and departures with a signature yell and a couple of engine-roaring, sand-spewing doughnuts. The beach yahoo can be a dangerous bird, especially when in close proximity to young family members, and your outrage is understandable. It’s also worth noting that the Open Beaches Act leaves the particulars of “public access” up to local jurisdictions along the coast and that some of them have opted to disallow vehicles from motoring upon the seashore. Such serene settings do not make good habitat for the yahoo, and it is generally found there only if it has become lost. The Porters ought to consider this when planning their next Texas getaway.
Q: Did I miss the memo that said it is unsafe to give people a friendly wave in traffic these days? Why doesn’t anybody do it anymore?
A: Unfortunately, getting the lifted index finger, or the hi sign, as it is sometimes called, from an oncoming pickup driven by an old farmer in overalls and a slightly askew gimme cap who’s chewing on a piece of wheat straw has, as you point out, become a rarity. It is just another slice of a simpler time that is slowly falling victim to the ever-encroaching go-go hurly-burly of city life, with all the drive-through coffee shops, 24-hour Super Wal-Marts, and Wi-Fi-enabled gentlemen’s clubs. However, this is a practice the Texanist is unwilling to let go of. And so, when on the occasional foray to our state’s larger metropolitan areas, he treats his fellow drivers on the humming thruways no differently than he would back home. While Houston’s Loop 610 at drive time may not be as picturesque as Texas 118 through the Davis Mountains, the Texanist forgives it and simply relishes the chance to “Drive Friendly—The Texas Way” with so goddam many of his citified countrymen.
Q: I have received three speeding tickets in the past two years. My wife has been riding shotgun on all three occasions. On the last one she asked me, quite angrily, why I always say thank you to the officers. What exactly is the proper response in this sort of situation?
A: Driving friendly is the Texas way, and the Texanist finds no fault in your kindly responses to the ticketing agents of the highway patrol. They are, after all, just doing their job. Your query, however, begs a few questions with regard to the behavior of your co-pilot, which may help to get at the root of the problem. Does she ever angrily ask why your knuckles aren’t white? Why the bugs are splatting on the windshield with so little velocity? Why you’re not yet at your destination? Or why you’re driving so damn slow? If so, it may be time to tighten the reins on your lead-footed lady and have her just enjoy the ride.
Q: While traveling in the Valley recently, I found my trip hampered not once but twice by slow-moving tractors in the roadway. After both encounters ended in horn blasts and a few choice words, I began to wonder, Just exactly how long is long enough to wait behind this sort of slow-moving rural roadblock before a person is allowed to react in the manner in which I did?
A: The Rio Grande Valley, with its rich, loamy soils and subtropical climate, is the fruit basket of the state. And the vegetable basket, the cotton basket, the sorghum basket, and the sugarcane basket. And anytime you drive through a basket, you’re bound to have some trouble. You see, even though some of the basket’s produce does grow on actual trees, none of it grows on metaphorical ones. These crops are carefully cultivated by farmers who work sunup to sundown so that you will have food to, as President Bush once said, put on your family. And farmers don’t go places in a hurry. In fact, the way the Texanist sees it, the farmer’s role in society is not only to grow our foods and fibers but also to maintain our connection to the slow pace of nature. It is not unusual to experience a miles-long, teeth-grinding, fist-shaking tantrum when stuck behind one of these salts of the earth, perched up on his tractor like a pasha on an elephant, but it is not an admirable response. Next time you get caught tailing a tractor that’s chugging along a good forty or fifty miles per hour below the posted speed limit, try to enjoy the bucolic fields and orchards. And give a wave of thanks to those who work them. You wouldn’t bite the hand that feeds, so why should you bark obscenities at it? Not only do farmers provide the food that ends up on your table (or family), but they can also give you a much-needed excuse to slow down.
Q: I live near Wimberley, and recently, as I was driving home from
a PTA meeting, I hit
and killed a deer. My question is, if I had acted fast, could I have legally eaten that deer? And if I could have, should I have? And if I should have, how would you recommend preparing road-killed deer?
A: You don’t need to log many miles on Texas roads to conclude that the white-tailed deer is a superabundant and reckless, even suicidal creature. The Texanist can barely drive to the grocery store without spotting one prancing along the shoulder, threatening at any minute to commence a mismatched game of chicken with his ’95 Chevy. Our byways are littered with the bloated carcasses of the cloven-hoofed losers of these contests. But while it is commonly assumed that to all victors belong all spoils, this is a rare instance in which they do not. It may seem wasteful but it would have been illegal, according to Texas state law, for you to have field-dressed the kill, thrown it into the back of your truck, and headed home to light the grill. The Texanist himself is a lover of venison. But imagine for a moment what might happen if the practice of roadkill collection and consumption was legal and accepted behavior: plenty of ol’ boys would seize the chance to turn their F-150s into weapons. The thought of them out cruising the highways for dinner, swerving this way and that, plowing through fences and over bar ditches in frenzied pursuit of their prey is terrifying to contemplate. How long before some kid’s dog gets run down? And then what? Could they eat the dog? The Texanist can tell you that within a month’s time our thoroughfares would be baited with corn and completely unsafe for the average motorist. Roadkill, tasty though it may appear, is best left on the road.
Q: I grew up on a gravel road and was always taught that it was good manners to drive slowly enough to avoid raising dust when around people’s houses. But folks today seem to just speed by going 90 miles an hour, not caring where the dust settles. Is there such a thing as gravel-road etiquette, and if so, how best can I teach it to the neighbors?
A: There is indeed such a thing as gravel-road etiquette, and congratulations to you for being familiar with it. The Texanist received such instruction before he was even of legal driving age (this was on the back routes of Bell County, where the Texanist’s father assumed that the impact on people and property would be limited). The rules are simple: don’t stir up too much dust around homes (or anywhere else for that matter); when running over rattlers, stomp on the brakes hard enough to rip them to shreds; and acknowledge oncoming vehicles (and anybody else for that matter) with a friendly wave. City folk, with whom the state of Texas seems more and more congested, may require some help grasping these particulars. Think of a waterway’s no-wake zones, which are intended to keep boat captains from creating bothersome chop that can lap too vigorously upon things that shouldn’t be lapped upon. A rural road’s no-dust zones are much the same, but swap the boat’s wake for a thick cloud of dust, which will blanket the surrounding area—cars, children, and pets included. The problem is that no-wake zones are designated by way of well-marked and easily visible buoys, while no-dust zones are demarcated by nothing more than common courtesy shared between good country folk. Maybe it’s time for the introduction of a few dry-land buoys, which when anchored along a roadside are sometimes called signs, to get your message across. Ruralites tend to be an industrious sort, and this should be an easy project for you. Here are a few ideas to help get your creative juices flowing: “Raise Children, Not Dust,” “Go Slow or Go to Hell,” “If I Eat Dust, You’ll Eat Lead,” “Raise Dust, Bite Dust,” and “Slow the Hell Down.” One or all of these displayed on the road near your house should have some effect. Keep the Texanist posted.
Q: Is it really okay to park a big honkin’ truck across three parking places?
A: Once upon a time the Texanist was enjoying himself a bit too thoroughly at a local chili emporium when he referred loudly to the house’s much-touted XXX bowl of red as “sissified.” The next night he returned to said emporium, little recalling the stir he had caused the night before. The chef de cuisine, however, had apparently been stewing over the matter ever since and delivered to the Texanist a blistering concoction which, the next morning, while the Texanist was on his way to work, threw him into a sudden and terrifying crisis of the bowels. Time was of the essence. Gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles and gnashing his teeth to the point of dental destruction, he topped the curb, plowed through a stand of ornamental shrubbery, and stashed his truck lengthwise across three spaces in front of a shoe store, where they were kind enough to let him foul their facilities (they had no real choice). His actions that day were acceptable, if unfortunate. In all other situations, you should do your best to stay within the lines.
Q: How high is too high to jack up a truck? And what are your thoughts on my wife’s theory of a correlation between a person’s road clearance and his IQ?
A: The Texanist is a utilitarian. In determining a suitable amount of ground clearance for a person’s vehicle, he would need to know exactly what that person plans to drive over. It is certainly the case that, while motoring our state’s thruways, he has often been left confounded by the sight of junior monster trucks more suitable for a blackland mud-bogging rally than the daily blacktop commute. Unless one is truly bound for some bottomland jamboree, the need for unreasonable lift kits and a set of forty-inch Dick Cepek tires is unwarranted. As far as your wife’s speculation regarding the association of a vehicle’s height and the capacity of its operator’s brainpan, the Texanist is not sure there isn’t something to it. Most of us royals of the road, by the grace of One Higher, have reached a point in our evolutionary road trip where the decision to drive around what we cannot drive over is a true no-brainer. Gratuitous flexing of off-road worthiness might just be, as your better half supposes, the province of the meek of mind. After all, who but a pinhead would continually risk a groin injury mounting and dismounting his automobile?
Q: I was recently presented with one of those window stickers for your car that advertises your child’s name, school, sport, and position. I am very proud of my son (even though he doesn’t get much playing time), but I don’t want to put this sticker on my car. Am I going to hell?
A: The Texanist is not responsible for determining whether or not you spend your hereafter roasting in the hot fires of eternal damnation, but if he were, this would not meet his threshold of a condemnable offense. Maybe if your son was QB.
Q: My wife (a sixth-generation Texan) insists that she is capable of driving a dualie with a gooseneck-attached sixteen-foot trailer, despite never having driven anything close to this size before. Her explanation: “How hard could it be?” Do all Texans feel that it is their God-given birthright to have this ability?
A: The question you should be asking is not “Are natural-born Texans inherently capable of hauling sixteen-foot trailers?” It is, rather, “Are my insurance premiums up-to-date?” May God be with you, sir.
Q: Why do men and men only back into parking spots?
A: In the olden days, before the power of our chosen modes of transportation exceeded that of just one horse, this phenomenon did not exist. Have you ever come across an equine hitched to a post by its rear end? The Texanist hasn’t either. It’s an absurd image. Certainly a person who attempted to hitch his mount in this manner would have been thought a real jackass. And, as with many things from the past, what would have counted as asinine then can be considered equally so today. The plain fact is that excessive effort spent planning a speedy egress makes for nothing more than an excruciatingly slow ingress and a backup of frustrated motorists ( Come on, people! Move it! The Texanist has puzzles to solve! ). As for why males make up the vast majority of those motoring Texans who choose to turn the parking lots and garages of our great state into snarled jams of cussing commuters, the Texanist can only point to the lamentably long list of masculine rituals that, while intended to produce some sort of advantage in this ofttimes brutish and nasty world, end up only making it more so (see steroid abuse and groomed privates). The gender imbalance in this foolish behavior may also reflect the near impossibility of penciling on eyeliner and accurately applying lipstick while driving in reverse.
Q: After a relocation to the Corpus Christi area from Austin, I find myself frequently driving on lonesome two-lane roads. What the hell happened to the Texas hi sign? On a stretch from Cuero to Bayside I received only 2 hi signs out of 21 cars.
A: Two out of 21! Jiminy Goddam Cricket! All Texans worth their collective roadkill should be shocked and disheartened and then shocked again. To throw out 21 hi signs and get only 2 reciprocations amounts to a hi sign return rate of less than 10 percent, which is completely unacceptable. For the uneducated traveler, of whom there appear to be in the neighborhood of 90.47 percent too many, the hi sign—also known as the hidy sign, the one-finger wave (not that one finger, Little Bubba), the Medina wave, or the Texas wave—is an effortless gesture consisting of nothing more than the raising of the index finger to salute an oncoming motorist. The rules of engagement couldn’t be simpler: You give one, you get one, and vice versa. When executed properly, it is a deeply satisfying, if entirely fleeting, form of social interaction, a timeworn expression of the neighborly ties that bind, even when we’re hurtling past each other at 65 miles per hour. The hidy sign is not performed in crowded urban areas for obvious reasons (too many cars, too many tourists), but also because it is, in its purest form, a subtle acknowledgement of the lonesomeness of our desolate country roads. A properly executed hidy sign does a better job of making those roads less lonesome than all the twelve-disc changers, dashboard televisions, smart phones, and onboard talking navigators you can muster. And that’s the real reason the hidy sign is disappearing. The explosion of vehicular computing has caused such a wadding of the mental panties that it’s a miracle today’s motoring public notices anything that happens beyond the windshield. This is the wrong way to drive friendly (or safely). Perhaps, in addition to making it illegal to send text messages while driving, it’s high time for some legislation to enforce the hi sign.
Q: Is there any rhyme or reason to the numbering system used to designate Texas’s great farm-to-market roads? Also, where is FM 1? What is the highest-numbered FM road, and where is it located?
Louis Dunham III
A: Start the clock: Sort of. In San Augustine and Sabine counties. Farm-to-Market 3549, in Rockwall County. Stop the clock and give the Texanist his prize, which he will share with his friend Penny at the Texas Department of Transportation, whom he called to get these answers. Penny also told the Texanist that the department keeps a list of all the roads in a “black book” and that when it’s time to name a new road, it just goes to the next number, although the locals sometimes have special requests, which are considered. And just in case you’re wondering if a person could drive to the moon if all the farm-to-market roads in the state were strung together, the answer is no. The 37,916 total centerline miles of our FM roadways would leave you about 200,000 miles short. Again, credit for that info goes to Penny, who also filled the Texanist in on what the deal is with ranch-to-market roads. The general but much-violated rule of thumb is that RMs belong west and FMs east of U.S. 281. What’s the shortest FM road? That would be Crosby County’s FM 122, which stretches for a mere .13 mile. And what’s the longest? FM 168 in the Panhandle, which will roll up nearly 140 miles on the odometer. The best for driving? The Texanist himself will field that one: 165 in the Hill Country, 170 in Big Bend, 139 in East Texas, and just about any one on which he finds himself on a pretty day with the windows rolled down.
Q: Recently I had some car trouble in the Dallas area. After standing by my vehicle with jumpers in my hand and watching cars drive by, I politely requested a jump from a passerby who I assumed to be a fellow Texan. The man refused outright because he “had children at home.” I was shocked that this staple courtesy was declined. If the man was a Texan, does this disqualify him from full Texan status?
A: Texans are a driving people blessed with an abundance of wide-open spaces, and the various destinations that make up our daily comings and goings are often separated by miles and miles of blacktop. Everybody knows that just as sure as the state motto of Texas is “Friendship,” the number one mantra of automobiling Texans is “Drive Friendly—The Texas Way.” That’s just how we roll across this state. Or at least the Texanist thought it was. Thankfully, the discourteous galoot with whom you crossed paths is an exception to the rule, an outlier—a no-good, unmannerly outlier. Stripping this fool of his Texan credentials and deporting him to, say, Oklahoma seems a bit harsh, but the Texanist, a very friendly driver, is a believer in “car-ma.” This man will find himself in need of a jump one day, and that’s when he’ll get his, which is to say, he won’t get his at all. Happy motoring.