Driving wasn't completely new to me. I had started to steer while seated on my dad's lap when I was about 5 or 6 years old, and he let me drive around in my grandparents' four-acre lot by myself in the mint-green Ford Falcon when I was only 10 or 11. When the time came for me to get my driver's permit, I was all over it, and my red junior-driver's license arrived as close to my 16th birthday as was permitted. Unlike some kids nowadays, I was not a late bloomer. It was almost as if I had been born to drive.
For those of you who have not driven in Rome, Italy; Paris, France; or Istanbul, Turkey, let's just say that, excluding those and other such wild cities, if the New Jersey Turnpike stretched across the entire world, we absolutely would not have a population pushing seven billion people.
In fact, my guess is that we would probably only have a few billion or so humans left. It's not that New Jersey drivers are aggressive. . . . OK, they are aggressive! In fact, they swerve and weave, speed and cut one another off on a regular basis. If anyone makes a mistake as a rookie driver, they feel it is their sworn duty to teach you a lesson.
Really, I love my New Jersey friends, and I have plenty of them. This is not a personal attack on their driving. It just happens to be true. It's almost as if their bodies are inhabited by a Tasmanian devil when they get behind the wheel of any vehicle. This metamorphosis is not limited to any particular age, race, religion or sex. If they are from Jersey, hold onto your buns.
Thinking about it, the closer you get to New York City, the wilder it gets. Honking, swerving, screaming, hand gestures and sometimes intentional brake squeals and gunshots can be heard around you. On our World's Fair drive, my knuckles where whiter than Willie Nelson's hair, and my mom's hand prints were clearly visible in the beige Valiant's foam rubber dashboard. The three of us were jammed in the compact front seat with my dad nearly on top of me.
We pulled off the road to look at the map, and when I began my re-entry maneuver, something memorable happened. About six cars emerged at once. They were all honking, skidding, screaming as they swerved past my blind spot. It was almost the end of mankind as I knew it.
Well, this past Monday, I made my second trip to New Jersey in as many weeks, and it looks like that's my future for a while. So if you see a little black car weaving and swerving past you with a digit pressed against the window and a wild-eyed man looking at you, you'll know that the newest New Jersey driving devil has arrived!
(Nick Jacobs, Windber, international director for SunStone Consulting LLC, is the author of the blog Healinghospitals.com.)