Well, we have been in our apartment for just over one week and it is becoming increasingly clear what some of our duties will be in the mission. One of the senior couples, Elder & Sister Hendrickson, have sort of taken us under their wing and are giving us line upon line. The Hendricksons are going home on May 15th (after more than 18 months of service) and we will be taking over some of their duties, the most frightening of which is driving the mission van all over creation. It serves me right because when people ask what our experience in the Church has been and what our skills are, Sister Shaw always speaks first and after her impressive resume they turn to me whereupon I say, "I am just her driver."
So, why are there feelings of terror associated with driving the mission van? Let me introduce the answer to that question by quoting from the book "New York City for Dummies" which was given to Sister Shaw by a few of the wonderful sisters in the Auburn 2nd Ward. It essentially says, "Do not drive in New York City."
We have found that piece of advice could apply just as well to New Jersey. There are a number of issues. First, the roads are full of potholes, many of which are unavoidable, and some of which can swallow our Honda. You must be constantly on the lookout for potholes.
Fortunately, the freeways and expressways do not have as many potholes, but they were designed by crazy people. Most of the on and off ramps have extremely short acceleration or braking distances. Some of the on ramps even have a stop sign just before the merge point! I guess that's so you can take a moment to contemplate what kind of life you have lived before having your next near-death experience.
The freeways are a tangled web of ramps and connections. Heaven help you if you are in the wrong lane. It's not like you can take the next off ramp and just go back. One mistake can put you into a tunnel or onto a bridge to New York City. The signs are occasionally helpful. The worst ones are those that tell you that you are in an exit only lane. Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not. They do not have the fat dashed lines that tell you that you are in an exit only lane. One good thing: I have not seen a commute lane!
Next, let's consider the drivers themselves. I think they have traffic laws here to convince themselves that they are a civilized society; not that they are to be obeyed. The basic rule of the road seems to be: Survive. Other than that, almost anything goes. I say almost anything because we have heard there are two things for which the law will show no mercy. One is running a toll booth without paying and the other is turning right on a red light when there is a "no turn on red" sign.
There are places on the roads and even the freeways where there are no lane markings. In some cases I think they may have just worn off from the snow, sand, and salt. In other cases they have repaved and just didn't bother to re-stripe. The rule in this circumstance seems to be "create as many lanes as you can fit cars in. It is a little unsettling when someone passes you on the right and you are quite sure there is no lane there.
The irony is that in person the people here are very friendly and nice and even kind. It's just that when they get behind the wheel they want to kill you. I have promised Sister Shaw that I will remain a courteous and cautious California driver. I wonder if we will survive.