I braved the Santa Monica DMV my first week in Los Angeles. It wasn’t the closest office to my house by any means. Couldn’t tell you why I chose that location, but it’s where I ended up at seven a.m. on a Wednesday morning. I thought I was smart, getting there an hour before it opened, but I was still at least number 20 in line. Ten minutes before eight, a woman came down the line, asked what each person was there for, and handed out numbers.
“What are you here for today?”
“I need to get a California license.”
“Do you have your ID and birth certificate with you?”
“I have my ID…not my birth certificate.” Shit. I didn’t know I needed that.
“You need your birth certificate to get a California driver’s license. Unless you previously had one in California.”
“Yeah, I got my license here when I was 16.”
“Okay, you’ll be fine then. They’ll call your number when you’re up.”
Phew. It had taken me nearly an hour to get down here, and I’d been in line almost another hour. I was not prepared to have to go through that again.
I passed the exam, took an objectively awful picture, and shelled out nearly 3,000 dollars to register my car, which I’d bought while living in North Carolina. Over 2,000 dollars went to taxes. Hadn’t I paid taxes on my car when I bought it? According to the state of California, not enough. I later Googled it and found out they can get away with it under a “Use Tax” law. It’s in place to deter people from going to neighboring states to make large purchases for less. Since I bought the car new and moved to California a few months later, establishing residence right away—even though I had no intention of scamming the government—I got screwed out of a third of my savings right away.
Exiting the 10 freeway on the way home, I stopped at a light with two right-turn lanes and a “No Turn on Red” sign. I was first in line for the far right one, while a man in a black sedan was to my left. When the light turned green, the sedan started pulling into the left lane. Instead of turning into the right lane, I went for the middle one, since it was clear and I’d have to get into it eventually anyway. Well, halfway into the far lane, the driver of the black car changes his mind and goes to complete his turn into the middle lane—the lane I was already 75 percent into. He saw me, and in one moment managed to pound his horn, flip me off, and swerve back into the left lane.
You’d think he’d have made his point, but he was nowhere near finished. The guy slowed down, swerved behind me, slammed on his horn once again, and flipped me off once again. Then, he took a half-empty water bottle from next to him and chucked it out his sunroof at my car. It bounced off into the street.
AND THEN, as we approached the next red light, he pulled into the right lane, which was a turn-only lane, rolled down his window, and started yelling at me. I glanced over, put up my hand with my palm facing him, and mouthed, “I’m sorry” to get him of my case. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said back in a sarcastic voice, putting his hand over his chest to really make his point clear. I directed my attention back to the light, which finally turned green. Instead of turning, though, my new friend put his foot to the floor and cut me off in the middle of the intersection, flipping me off once more through his sunroof before moving into the left lane and turning onto a cross street. Cool, bro. Cool.
Driving in Los Angeles is a nightmare. You have jerks with rage issues like that guy, obvious tourists who drive 10 under the speed limit because they don’t know where they’re going, people who put on their turn signal to change lanes and slam on their brakes because they missed their chance and are now the cause of a pointless traffic jam…
I learned, after the water bottle incident, to expect every driver to make a dumb move. To be extra cautious in certain areas. To be aggressive or you’ll get eaten alive. But also still on the defense at the same time. Getting from one place to another in this city is truly an art form. But an art form with structure and unofficial rules. Kinda like writing, but with more expletives and moments of rage. On second thought, that sounds a lot like writing…
Let’s break down the unofficial rules of the road, while simultaneously giving a nod to the only cheer I remember from high school. B-E A-G-G R-E-S-S-I-V-E. Be. Aggressive. B-E Aggressive. Woo.
B – is for Bro.
As in, the name you’re going to call literally anyone who does something stupid on the road. For example: When making a U-turn on a green arrow, you have the right-of-way. Let’s say some girl in a red Saab pulls out in front of you and maintains eye contact as she completes her right turn. Clearly, this driver was female, but that won’t stop you from hitting the brakes and muttering a judgmental “Really, bro?” to yourself.
E – is for Exit lanes are actually for exiting.
If you’re coasting along in the exit lane on the 405 during rush hour, only to cut someone off in traffic at the last minute, I hate you. You’re causing even more traffic and holding up those of us who are actually getting off at that exit—all so you can wait in the same line you’d have been in anyway?
A – is for Aggressive.
I really went out on a limb here. If you’re scared to merge or change lanes, will let anyone pass you or cut you off, you will not survive. Grow a pair or take an Uber. I’d like to argue that scared, unconfident drivers are more dangerous than aggressive ones. Why? Sometimes, you have to make decisions in a split second when driving. If you can’t trust your own instincts, you’re not going to fare well on the road.
G – is for GO! What are you doing? GO!
Okay, this one is definitely part of my everyday driving vocabulary. Please don’t drive in the fast lane or express lanes if you’re going to drive slower than cars in the regular lanes. Or 10 mph under the speed limit. Sure, you have the right to be in the carpool lane because your Prius runs on batteries, but that doesn’t mean you should exercise it. If you’re comfortable going 55 on the freeway, stay in the right lane. It’s literally the law. Slow traffic, keep to the right. Also, if there are 15 cars lined up behind you to turn left on a green arrow—each one of them heading to the office buildings up ahead—step on the gas. The people behind you are going to be piiiiissed if you’re the only reason they missed that light.
G – is for Grateful.
I know, I know. There’s a lot of negativity going on here. So let’s break it up with something warm and fuzzy. Here’s the thing about lane changes and merging in Los Angeles. Anywhere else, you’d put on your turn signal and wait for someone to leave space for you. Here, it’s a little different. That approach will get you nowhere. People see a turn signal and speed up, figuring the next person can deal with it. So, in the rare chance that someone is nice enough to let you out of a parking lot or into their lane, show a little gratitude. Give ’em a wave or a smile or something to show you appreciate the gesture. Chances are, if you don’t, they’re not gonna be nice to the next person.
R – is for Road rage.
I have a bad case of it. I’m impatient and always in a hurry because I hate wasting time. I mean, I drove across the country in 47 hours with my best friend. And that was before I became an LA driver. I’m not saying this as the first step to recovery. I’ve been aware of my road rage for a very long time. And I’m not exactly trying to change because I’ve got it under control. Mostly.
E – is for Entertainment.
As in, the car stopped on the side of the road is not there for your entertainment. Do not stop, do not slow down, do not pass GO, do not collect $200. This is why we have traffic. Because we’re nosy little dummies who can’t look away from an accident or a car getting pulled over.
S – is for Stay in your lane.
Why do you need to swerve left before making a right turn? Or to swerve right to complete your U-turn? If a school bus can make a right turn without entering my lane, so can you. On a different note: When you’re making a left turn onto a street, choose a lane. Don’t straddle the two lanes until I have to honk at you to pick one or the other. One more thing: If your lane curves, so should you. Those little white dashes are there for a reason: To keep you from smashing into the car next to you.
S – is for Sing your little heart out.
Driving here sucks, so if you can find a way to make it a little more bearable, embrace the hell out of it. Maybe it’s listening to a podcast or snacking on watermelon rings. Or, maybe it’s getting your singing on. Roll down your windows, turn up the volume, and belt out the chorus to “Africa” by Toto. Don’t let the haters stop you from doing your thang.
I – is for Inconsiderate.
As in, don’t be the inconsiderate asshole who drives with their brights on because they’re too lazy to go get their headlight replaced. You will blind someone. You will infuriate many. I will flash my brights back at you if you happen to get in front of me. You may or may not understand why I’m doing it, but I’ll feel better knowing I gave you a little taste of your own shit.
V – is very, very extraordinary.
Wait a minute…
E – is for Excuse my language…
…if you ever have to ride in the car with me. I can control my mouth just fine in everyday life, but put me behind the wheel with somewhere to be at a certain time, and I turn into a monster. All bets are off if I have to pee and/or haven’t eaten anything in a while. Being hangry + road rage = no bueno for anyone involved.