Saturday, May 03, 2008


I just want to say that I love my coworkers. I avoid blogging about them because I don't have the right to tell other people's stories without their permission. I am willing to suffer--or at least to get into a big snit about--the consequences, of readers completely misinterpreting what I write about myself, but I don't want to visit that upon my co-workers, even anonymously. That said, here's a slice of life after meeting up with the gang.

As the pilot, I'm coming on shift to relieve one of the pilots who is already on the job. There's a lot of work to do here, so there are already two pilots down here, and four technical specialists, and they've been working fourteen hour days for two weeks. They're all a little crazy, but today they finished early, that is to say around six p.m., while the restaurants are still open, and tomorrow a later start is planned. They've seized the opportunity to go somewhere that isn't Denny's for dinner. (Denny's is a North American restaurant with supremely ordinary American food; its only virtue is that it's open twenty-four hours a day).

We all head towards two rental vehicles in order to play follow-the-leader towards the chosen restaurant. I get in the back of the second vehicle and as the co-worker who will be driving gets in, she tells the driver of the lead vehicle, "Okay, but no U-turns and no cutting across three lanes of traffic to turn left from the curb lane on a red light!" That sounds like a reasonable request. I buckle up, imagining that she is exaggerating for humour some previous navigational gaffe by the guy driving the other vehicle.

We go several blocks, at a speed not entirely inconsistent with local speed limits, and then suddenly the vehicle ahead does a U-turn in the middle of the block and turns right into the parking lot of a "Center for Digestive Diseases." Those in our vehicle are agreed on the unsuitability of this as a place to eat dinner, but before we need convey our veto to the lead vehicle, it circles the parking lot and turns back onto the street, initially in the curb lane, but then with a single flash of the turn indicator, he crosses three lanes of traffic and turns left. I look at the others for some confirmation that he only did that to tick off our driver. Deliberate defiance of her stipulation, I guess. But no, this is the way the drive goes. There's another U-turn, more turns, both left and right from the wrong lane, and another circuit of a parking lot.

We finally park at the restaurant. The driver denies responsibility, claiming that the maneuvers were all specified to him by the navigator. The navigator blames the GPS unit. We all eat dinner. It is good.

In defence of the driver and navigator, U-turns are acceptable, legal and normal in this town. Many times when a light turns green everyone who was stopped at the light makes a U-turn. It's a rare town in Canada that allows them and we all think they are crazy manoevers. I can't defend the lane changes though. They were bizarre.

Edit in response to a question:

A U-turn is a procedure by which a driver going down a street maneuvers the vehicle such that it is going the opposite direction down the street, without actually leaving that street during the procedure. If the street is wide enough or the turning radius of the vehicle is tight enough, this can be accomplished in one continuous turn resembling the letter U. In the Canadian cities where I have lived, and the cities where my coworkers live, this is not normal driving behaviour. People do it, but not without checking carefully for police as well as traffic. If you don't like your direction of travel, you have to leave the street and reenter it, perhaps by going around the block, or turning into a parking lot.


Frank Ch. Eigler said...

> Many times when a light turns green
> everyone who was stopped at the light
> makes a U-turn. It's a rare town in
> Canada that allows them

Could you be more specific about this
maneuver that you believe is generally
verboten in Canada?

Anonymous said...

Your explanation of Denny's is not completely inaccurate, just incomplete. Denny's claim to fame is that almost all of the food is classic American breakfast fare, and the caloric content of one meal at Denny's is roughly equivalent to a full week's worth of a person's recommended caloric intake. Oh, and I think the amount of fat in a typical Denny's dish is roughly 2/3 of the calories.

I don't dislike Denny's, in fact, it's one of my guilty pleasures. Once in a while it's so good. But it's also the kind of indulgence that you regret just a little.

Anonymous said...

Here in Quebec it's totally normal to see U-turns galore. It's the actual preferred method of getting around. So much so that it will happen anywehre there is an intersection, whether there is a sign forbidding it or not. What is interesting is it's backwards here. I believe that U turns in Quebec are always allowed unless otherwise posted whereas in most of Canada they are forbidden unless posted.

Aviatrix said...

But then in Quebec it's legal to drive backwards on two wheels, play dodge-em with pedestrians and drive on the sidewalk. Or at least that's how it seems to the visitor. ;-)

Guy said...

U-turns do take a bit of getting used to. In Washington State, where I learned to drive, U-turns were, if not actually illegal, at least dangerously unsafe and difficult to accomplish in any car with a turning radius larger than a Geo Metro.

After moving to California, I found that not only were U-turns legal, but they had traffic engineered most of the state so that they were required on a regular basis. For those that have not visited, most streets have a large concrete divider down the middle, such that the only way to get to a business on the opposite side of the street is to proceed to the next light and make a U-turn.

Also, most cities here have dedicated lights for left-turns, thus eliminating any requirement for people to actually think about when they need to yield. This can produce scary results when drivers encounter the occasional light that requires some knowledge of traffic laws...

Aviatrix said...

They had traffic engineered most of the state so that they were required on a regular basis.

Exactly! We had to do U-Turns just to get to our intended stores and restaurants. And no, they weren't dangerous because the streets were designed for them. The US road system, and California in particular are supremely designed for cars.

Santa Barbara put that same design effort into cycling and pedestrians, giving a glimpse of what US engineering could do if it really turned its mind and money to energy-saving communities.

dpierce said...

There is a bit of road near me (southern US) that sees frequent U-turns necessitated by concrete dividers on an earlier patch of road that prevent left-hand turns. The road has 2 lanes total, and is quite narrow, and it is difficult for many vehicles to complete the U-turn in one pass without driving over the curb.

Many locals have perfected a technique of entering the U-turn with enough momentum to skid the tail of the vehicle into quick alignment with the lane, shortening the turn. If there's opposing traffic that requires them to stop before executing the U-turn, I guess they're out of luck.

Personally, I would never do something this reckless ... honest ...