The next phase was an actual visit. This helped me to put together things that weren’t clear in my data-only investigation. Now I was able to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears.
After a second on-site interview with my family, we compared notes and impressions and all of us had favorable responses. The area seemed very much like a flatter, yet prettier, version of southern California. There were more trees, the roads were wider and had more green strips, but there was still the energy and fun of being in a large suburban community.
The next phase of the transition was the acceptance of the ‘job offer’ and then solving the problem of how to get me relocated to Michigan. We decided that I would go, set up ‘camp’ in a small apartment, and get established in my job while the rest of the family would stay put and concentrate on getting the house ready for sale.
To do that, my wife and I took a cross-country road trip so that I could have my car with me at my new ‘home.’ That turned out to be much more of an adventure than we’d anticipated. We got right in the middle of a record-breaking storm and had awful weather all the way across the mountain and plains states. However, providentially, we were always able to travel during daylight hours. That’s not, “travel comfortably,” but we were able to make time and distance. Once we reached Chicago, my wife took a plane back to Washington and I continued on by myself arriving safely.
I was able to secure a condominium ‘house-sit’ and set up my bachelor life while getting oriented to my new job. About two months later, I flew back out to Washington and drove my wife and son across country (much different route, this time!) to join me.
During those couple of months while I was ‘bach-ing it,’ I certainly learned something about getting around in the snow. What was ironic was that this season was the worst snow in decades for the area. So it was a ‘baptism by snow.’ Fortunately, I learned enough quickly enough about driving in the piles of white stuff to avoid any accidents.
As one who was born and raised in the Los Angeles metro area, driving skills were Very Important. As I have travelled and moved place to place, for some reason I am very sensitive to the "car driving sub-culture." How people drive their vehicles is usually the first thing my mind registers as, "Hey, people do things differently around here."
A couple of driving-in-the-snow tips:
- your 4-wheel drive only helps you go in one direction: straight. It does not help you stop any better. You also need an anti-lock braking system to help you from skidding.
- Additionally, losing traction when turning is a common occurrence. Your tires are designed to start and stop in a straight line – they are not so good at holding you on a curve in slippery conditions. For the nerds: think "lateral forces."
- Different snow drives differently. Very cold, powdery snow is actually not so bad for traction; especially if there’s a wind: it acts almost like sand. The worst is melting snow – the combination of ice, water, and snow makes the road “slick as snot.” Typical was the snow that piles up before the plows push it away – it almost looks like stiff oatmeal as your tires go through it.
- I found that, generally, the colder the weather the better the snow traction.
General driving observations:
- There is an odd thing here: the "Michigan Left." In the Detroit area on major streets, the Wise Men of Traffic Control have decided that drivers can not be trusted to make left hand turns as the rest of the country does. They have very wide medians and expect you to first make a right turn, cross over all the lanes of traffic, and then pull into a special turn lane that is put into the median. If you check out Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_left) you can get the full scoop. Check out this animated website (http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/MDOT_Roads-Travel_mich_left_213414_7.swf) to understand this more clearly. From my perspective, all this does is add milage to your trip and provide even more opportunity for accidents as you cross all those lanes of traffic or become confused as to how to handle an intersection - or even if there is an intersection.
- As mentioned before, the road conditions are much poorer than in the west. Whoever the road engineer geniuses are who devised the Michigan Left apparently wasted all that brainpower on making it more difficult to get from place to place rather than thinking of better ways to make a road bed less prone to pothole-ing.
- Drivers here, as befits residents of the Motor City, are more aggressive. But they frequently drive faster than they are competent. I say this not only as I observe driving behavior, but as I observe the pragmatic results. Already in our time here, we have seen one accident happen right in front of us and another that must have occurred less than two minutes before we got there, as well as seeing a few post-accident scenes on the streets here. Even after 30+ years in Los Angeles traffic, I don't remember seeing so many accidents in such a brief amount of time.
- On the freeways, tailgating is frequent. Sometimes its of the aggressive sort: "Hey, I wanna go faster - get out of my way!" But it is also of a nonchalant sort: "You're going 65 mph and that's a good speed. I'll go 65 mph, too - three yards off your rear bumper."
- Cell-phone use while driving has not be prohibited here, yet. And it does show. There are many times when somebody will be traveling slow in the fast lane, you pass them, and see that they are talking on their cell phone. The other tell-tale sign is weaving or poor lane placement (having the car way over on either the right or left part of the lane - or crossing it). It is true that distracted driving prevents you from concentrating on all the things you need to do to drive well in a fast-paced environment.
- People around here do use their horns more. On the west coast, it was rare that somebody would use their horn to "send a message" of contempt or anger. Horn use was almost always "Look out! Do you see me?" Here, there is more horn use of the "sending a message" sort.
- There are several controlled intersections where there is a small sign posted prohibiting turning right on a red light. The vast majority of these are unneeded (frequently posted in intersections that have left-hand turn light control) and seem posted to become a revenue-producing opportunity for the local law enforcement departments.