By Jennifer O'Brien

Around the time I was thinking about moving here, I was suffering from a bad case of the highway blues.  Having spent most of my adult life as a “road warrior” in the Northeast, the thought of leaving clogged highways, cavernous potholes and hostile drivers in the dust seemed almost as appealing as Venice’s year-round sunshine.

Up north, just exiting my apartment building’s parking garage was enough to cause my deodorant to break down.  “Attention, hordes of pedestrians, cart vendors, panhandlers and bike messengers!”  I wanted to proclaim each morning, “Make way for frazzled, highly-caffeinated woman behind the wheel!” And that was just the beginning of my nerve-wracking daily 30-mile work commute.

Looking back, I can’t recall exactly when I hit my breaking point. It may have been the day the livestock escaped from their tractor-trailer—a feat that would have impressed Houdini. “Be on the lookout for reported road obstructions on the turnpike,” the traffic reporter had warned—as though my fellow commuters and I could fail to notice 30 Alpine goats cavorting in the eastbound lanes. We idled at a standstill for hours, waiting for the goat whisperer to arrive and round them up.

It’s also entirely possible I reached my quit-point the day the driver in front of me on I-95 “misplaced” the Christmas tree he had haphazardly strapped to his roof. However broad my definition of “getting into the holiday spirit” may be these days, it still does not include a six-foot Douglas fir hurtling through space on a direct path toward my windshield.

Venice had to be a better place to drive.

The Fast Track

In many ways, it is. Take, for example, the impressive 70 mph speed limit on I-75. Getting from Point A to Point B on our interstate is a breeze. For a self-admitted lead-foot, this is one of the attributes that makes our town the “paradise” everyone loves.

I’ve also observed the roadways here are pristine. Where are all the fast-food wrappers? Sometimes I feel a bit lost without seeing empty Thunderbird bottles lining the median strip. Weirdly, I do miss spotting that odd, random shoe that seems to be a staple of roadside debris in many northern cities. I always wondered where its mate was. Plainly, it’s not vacationing in Venice.

Steering Clear

But, naturally, every upside has a downside. Like, for instance, am I the only one who thinks the traffic patterns around here are a bit crazy? I learned to drive in a state where no left turns are allowed—for any reason. (New Jersey state motto: “Come to know the jug handle.”) So you can imagine my dismay when a perfectly good traffic light, complete with a working left-turn arrow, was removed and a roundabout was built in its place in South Venice. I don’t think I’m alone in my disappointment, judging from the number of close calls and creative hand gestures I’ve witnessed since its debut.

As a proud graduate of remedial traffic school, I feel I should take this opportunity to discuss the left-hand lane, and who should be in it. Where I come from, we have another name for it—it’s called the PASSING LANE. Folks, this is not a place to hang out and daydream as you putter along at 15 mph under the speed limit. It’s also not an ideal spot for those hauling major landscaping equipment, bikes, boats or Jet Skis™ that are tenuously hooked on to a trailer (see paragraph #4). Move over. There are those of us who need to get to the beach ASAP.

And, of course, I must touch on the parking lot situation. Parking spaces are a serious matter here. I thought I had some experience in this area but, clearly, I had never attempted to visit a Publix over the lunch hour. My friend told me she witnessed  two elderly gentlemen squaring off over a premium-parking spot at the Home Depot (as she tells it, canes were involved). I realized my past experiences were child’s play compared to what goes on down here. I’ve had so many spots snaked from me in the past eighteen months, I’ve now taken to shopping at off-hours just to avoid the trauma.

Road Less Traveled?

No column about driving in Venice would be complete without a comment about the Trail. For someone who thought they had seen it all, the big, bad Tamiami Trail was, for me, just part and parcel of our serene little hamlet by the sea. Little did I know.

In the short time I’ve been here, I have seen more dramas play out on this thoroughfare than during an entire season at the Venice Theatre.  I’ve observed “extreme” lane changes, tailgating, fender benders, numerous arrests and one gator crossing. One day, while sitting in a North Venice traffic jam whose length rivaled the Great Wall of China, I witnessed a lady in the next lane belting out show tunes into a hairbrush-turned-microphone. And people say L.A. has problems.

One for the Road

In summary, I will say that driving in Venice beats trying to navigate the concrete jungles of my home city up north. But still, driving is no picnic here. So I try to keep my contact lens prescription up to date, my reflexes honed and, oh yes, that remedial traffic school guide handy.

See you out on the Trail!

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