Friday, August 14, 2009

Mad-Dashing for Bagels

Pinellas County is that thumb that sticks out of Florida’s west coast, without which there would be no Tampa Bay. People live and breed here in mind-fogging profusion, and most of them spend every waking hour – and some non-waking hours – on the road. Vehicular progress of any sort in Pinellas takes place – if at all – on parallel north-south and east-west arteries that crisscross the thumb at two-mile intervals. Between arteries lies a no man’s land of mobile home parks, strip malls and other cul-de-sac-y places that ultimately lead nowhere except to someone else’s mobile home or the local bagel shop. Want to take the back road to get somewhere? Can’t do it. The sole option – so it’s not really an option at all, then, is it? - is to drive from your own cul-de-sac-y maze to an artery, then to another artery – et cetera – then into the cul-de-sac containing your bagel shop. You might think this a simple process, but you would be wrong,

Pinellas’s crisscrossing arteries are, in fact, full-dress highways carrying eternal, torrential traffic. They are cloven by grassy – or what passes here for grassy – medians designed to keep southbound torrents from intersecting randomly with northbound torrents, eastbound from westbound. Our quasi-grassy medians are punctuated at terrifyingly frequent intervals by opportunities, for those willing to risk life and orthopedic integrity, to turn left across the onrushing torrent to get to that cul-de sac-y place that seemed important when they first set out. No traffic lights to help. No guts, no bagel shop.

Median lanes are hair-raisingly short and narrow, and this is where hair-raising turns to tire-screeching lunacy. The traffic torrent in each direction rips along at 55 to 70 miles per hour. That’s 5 to 20 mph above the speed recommended by the Pinellas County Sheriff. To turn left off an artery, the bagel shopper must dismount while moving at ambient speed and stick a landing at zero speed in that tiny chink in the median. This maneuver tests not only brake pads and guts, but coffee-cup holders and seatbelt anchors as well. Did I mention that some Bozo in the oncoming lane always wants to occupy that same little chink of median lane you’re aiming at so he can turn left into HIS favorite bagel shop? Now the available median lane is halved and your initial closing speed with Bozo can be a sphincter-cinching 140 mph. Cream cheese with that bagel, sir?

One more point, then you can get back to your Facebook-ing. The only way to get from the bagel shop back whence you came is to mad-dash your way back to the median chink, this time in perpendicular fashion. If geometry escaped you all those years ago, this means sticking your 17-foot-long Escalade into a 12-foot-wide lane. Chronic under- and overshooters are eventually – and regularly – scooped off the pavement and reassembled at the Global Mortuary (see my diatribe of August 13 if you’re fuzzy on what this means.) However heart-clanging this maneuver may be to the mad-dasher, it is worse for the poor Bozo approaching in the leftbound torrent at his usual 70-mph cruising speed. The highest heart rate ever recorded in Florida belonged to just such a Bozo caught in mid-cellphone conversation just as a mad-dasher began his mad dash.

You gotta love this state.


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