My car is a gold Honda Accord named Goldie Honda, inspired by the great Goldie Hawn. I inherited Goldie from my grandmother who passed away in the summer of 2010. I was sad to lose my grandmother, a woman who spoiled her grandchildren, never forgot to send a thank you note and was known to leave a glass of ice water in the mailbox for the mailman on summer days.
My grandmother’s car means a lot to me, and since it has been my main form of transportation since graduating from college, Goldie Honda made the move to New Orleans, too. She has been my partner in crime in my adventures around my new city, and it's a good thing because driving in New Orleans has been an interesting adventure.
Driving in a new city, especially a large one, is always a bit challenging, but I have found the streets of New Orleans to be especially difficult. A main problem has been turning left. It’s a simple task that NASCAR careers are based on, but I have found it to be tricky in the Big Easy.
These photos help explain my example. On my way to work every day, I drive down Paris Avenue, then turn left on to Robert E. Lee Boulevard at this light. (top photo)
When I turn, this light is red. Usually a red light means stop, but in New Orleans, I have learned it’s okay to drive through a red light in intersections like this one. From my observation of other cars, including two police cars, this red light is merely a yield sign in which a driver slows down to make sure no one is coming. Since there is a small bit of space between this red light and a previous red light, the car completing the left turn from the other direction is okay to go through as long as the driver yields to oncoming traffic.
This makes sense now, but about two weeks ago, it made none. I was making the same left turn and stopped at the red light. The car was honking at me, which always makes me nervous and frazzled. The next time I was at this light, I noticed the car in front of me stopped for a second or two to make sure no one was coming to his right, then glided through the light before it turned green. I kept noticing it, but didn’t decide it was okay until a police car did the same thing. Now I know what to do when I come to this red light, even though I get a "breaking the rules” rush of adrenaline every time I do it. I have learned that turning left and going through the next red is allowed at some intersections and not others, but I have learned this all through observation, which has been stressful.
To be fair, my driving trouble might not be a New Orleans thing; it might be the difference between the roads of a big city verses the college town I where I used to live. However, the streets of New Orleans and its surrounding areas set the Big Easy apart from other U.S. cities. For instance, I've driven through the cities and suburbs of St. Louis, Chicago and more, and I've never seen as many U-turns in my life as I have on Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
To longtime New Orleans residents, these traffic patterns are the norm. They are part of everyone's daily routine. To outsiders, however, different traffic patterns are another part of New Orleans to which we have to adjust. I find myself planning what lane I need to be in long before I need to be in it. I find myself driving past my destination before I turn to get there. I find myself questioning whether I should stop or not.
I'm not complaining, but figuring out the difference between stop and go wasn't something I thought I would have to worry about. Like all big moves, stress happens and I know I will get used to it eventually. I only wish that the Red Light Green Light games I played in preschool came with a New Orleans edition, so Goldie Honda and I wouldn’t feel like our lives are at risk, and my grandmother could look down on us in peace.