Driving Tips for Seattle Greenhorns
by Jean Godden, The Seattle Times, September 28, 1997
Now that September's almost over, the tourists all should have gone
home. But no. The other day, while sandwiched in gridlocked traffic
between a sedate four-door sedan from Wisconsin and a sport-utility
behemoth from Idaho, I concluded this is probably the way it's going to
It won't get any better. In fact, traffic likely will grow worse before
it gets better. Just look at Boeing's escalating work force. Or at
Microsoft's hiring. Or the bio-tech firms and their bio-expanding
The solution is to train the newcomers who will someday acquire
Washington license plates, newcomers who haven't yet adjusted their
driving habits. Here are a few unwritten Rules of the Road in
* Windshield wipers. If you want to look like a native, refrain from using
wipers during drizzle or light rain. Save wipers for when a
genuine maelstrom arrives. Oh, and never use wipers at full speed;
the fool things can get away from you.
* Turn signals. There's a rumor circulating that some cars come equipped
with these new-fangled gadgets. But naaaaah. To judge by the
number of cars changing lanes without signaling, it's only a rumor.
* Four way stops. Natives treat traffic device as an excuse for social
chitchat. The unsaid greetings: "You go first." "No, you go first."
"I'm not in any hurry." "Be my guest." If you start out, so will I."
"We can meet in the middle of the intersection."
* Traffic islands. These intersection planters from hell were designed to
calm traffic, but not necessarily nerves. You'd think drivers would
circle single file, but never underestimate the creativity of Puget
* Parking. Most natives believe the best way to parallel park is by sound,
rather than sight. Why use rearview mirrors when it's much more
satisfying to hear the reassuring clash and clatter of bumper on bumper?
* Cars as offices. In Pugetopolis, it's no longer novel to see drivers with
phones plugged into both ears. But it is a trifle annoying to have to
wait to proceed until the motorist ahead receives a response on his
car fax. And remember this: True natives never honk.
* Signs. Natives long ago resolved to ignore all official white-on-green signs.
At least one of them, posted near Northgate, points to "Seattle" in a
direction that would send an unsuspecting southbound driver onto the
I-5 freeway in the northbound lanes.
* Speed. Puget Sound natives are notorious for pokey driving, especially on
freeways. It's not unusual to get behind a car with more horsepower
than the driver's IQ and find the vehicle is meandering along at
37 mph in the fast lane.
* Visibility. In most cities, drivers don't know how to drive in the rain.
Here it's different, Puget Sound drivers have trouble driving when the
sun comes out. One of the few times in recent months that a horn has
sounded inside the Seattle city limits was when sun-blinded drivers sat
through a green light at Mercer Street and Taylor Avenue North.
* Puddles. When it rains, the potholes in Puget Sound fill with navigable
waters. Newcomers should be aware they can register for a special
fishing license. From the freeway onramp into the frying pan: It's
part of the evening commute.