Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Virginia welcomes you

It's official.

I took the plunge (read: I spent an hour or so at the DMV in Alexandria) and got my car registered. New license plates, an inspection sticker and several hundred dollars later, I am officially a Virginian.

Let that roll off of your tongue. Virginian.

Bill Pullman, a fellow UMass graduate (unless you read the fine print on those honorary diplomas, which I don't. Hurts the brain, it does), even starred in a movie called The Virginian.

In honor of my new state of residence - the second commonwealth I've resided in my scant few years - I've arranged some fun facts about Virginia:

1) Virginia was originally part of the Virgin Islands (British, not American) that broke away during the last ice age.

2) There are some mountains here, also trees. And squirrels. I saw a squirrel yesterday. Virginia is a squirrel-friendly habitat.

3) It's a commonwealth, which is derived from the word "Commonweal." Colonial-types often attached commonweals to their carts, forming Conestoga wagons.

4) Local government is seated at the county level, unless you live in Alexandria, which is an independent city. But if you live in the part of Alexandria that isn't Alexandria City, then you live in Fairfax County. If you understood any of that, you've spent time in Northern Virginia

5) NOVA is what those of us in the know call "Northern Virginia." See, abbreviations mean you're hip. Like saying "Noho" instead of Northampton.

6) Richmond is the state capital, or the capital of the Confederate States of America, depending who you ask.

7) Contrary to popular belief, state officials do not hand out firearms, liquor and fireworks at the border. That's only New Hampshire.

8) Virginia was originally settled by tobacco.

9) This state was built on an indian burial ground, ayup. They say there's a lot of history on that road. Sometimes dead is better.

10) The state motto is "Sic Semper Tyrannus" or "A pox on T-Rex."

11) The Commonwealth was named in honor of Sir Richard Branson, its original discoverer.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Road rash

Nobody knows how to drive in Northern Virginia. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Actually, they do know how to drive, in the sense that you get behind the wheel and the right peddle is "go" and the left peddle is "not go" (also "un-go" or "de-go," depending). They just don't know how to drive with each other.

Imagine a playground full of small children. Imagine all of these small children playing their own game with their own sets of rules. You've got kickball over here, dodgeball in that corner, basketball in the middle, maybe throw in a couple of jump ropes and a good game of high stakes poker. That's driving in Virginia.

I blame it on the clash of cultures.

New England is a great case study. Folks in Massachusetts drive one way, in New Hampshire they do it another. Everybody hates Rhode Island drivers; they're the worst.

But at least they understand the rules of the game (in Massachusetts the rules are: every man for himself; it's full contact sport; and "you don't talk about the driving rules in Massachusetts.") So when you're buzzing through Boston you know certain things. Like stopping for a stop sign is really rolling through it unless there is a cop, in which case you probably stop. Most of the time. You also expect the person taking a left after a red light to shoot out first, so as not to disrupt the flow of traffic.

Down here, you get a mix of that, toss in some obnoxious New York City motoring shenanigans and a touch of the Mass Turnpike on a busy day. But you've also got the southern hospitality factor.

The southern hospitality factor means slowing down for yellow light, so as to obey the letter of the law. Southern hospitality means deciding who will go first at a four-way stop needs negotiations reaching the Camp David Accords level. Southern hospitality means the speed limit is 25, dagnabbit, and that's the way it is, y'all understand?

On the roads, these people don't play nice.

While their interaction is amusing to watch from afar, when you're actually in the midst of it, these people will drive you to white-knuckle driving. Now I understand why people here don't stray out onto the streets if there's a snowstorm. Hell, I wouldn't either. Why risk it?

I don't know, when approaching a changing light, whether I can hit the gas or the brakes. I don't know whether I'll be able to roll through a stop sign or have someone cut me off. Frankly, it's unsettling.

And I don't think I'm the only one left unsettled. How else can you explain the Metro raising its rates again? $2 and change is a decent price for living a few minutes longer.