Monday, November 18, 2013

Sputnik's Guide to Driving in Chicago

As it turns out, the lights of Chicago are powered by rage, fear and hopelessness.  The Chicago Department of Transportation is tasked with generating enough human misery to keep the city well lit all year round.  
Now that you are aware of this, driving in Chicago will make much more sense.  What seemed like a series of disjointed trials is, in reality, a meticulously structured plan to insure that each and every driver is frothing with hate and completely broke by the time they get out of the city.

I have compiled these five simple tips to prepare you for driving into Chicago:

1. Don't listen to statistics.

Driving in Chicago is guaranteed to be a dangerous and harrowing experience, and the CDoT know this.  In order to make their roads more stressful, the overpasses have been peppered with cheerful slogans like the following:

"6 Billion people died in traffic accidents this week!
Is today your lucky day?"

Now each driver is thinking of every other car on the road as a torpedo meant for them, insuring that everybody is extra paranoid and twitchy.  Long-term, this kind of mental abuse leads to repetitive stress injury of the brain, making Chicago commuters certifiably insane.  They choose to take these roads in and out every day and aren't just some hapless tourists who got lost and are now forced to live within the confines of the city.  They drive in on purpose

Billboards are part of a diversion strategy designed to help the CDoT achieve the stratospheric number of traffic accidents and keep those lights on.  Companies like Target will try to sell you orange juice for $3.15 a carton from huge, flashing signs as you careen down the tollway.  You have no time to count out change for the next toll, or even notice that the maniac in front has a mattress taped to the roof of his car before another blinding sign is telling you to buy vodka and drive responsibly.  This can be compared to driving through a disco.

2.  Ignore Blinking Things

With all of these crazies on the road, it is no wonder that driving around Chicago is a contact sport, and turn signals are tactical diversions.  Most people choose not to use them because, after all, why would you tell your enemy what you are about to do?  No, it is best to surprise your fellow torpedo by making sudden and irrational lane changes at the highest speeds that traffic will allow.  The sneakiest drivers will actually signal left while merging right, so it is better to ignore anything that blinks on the back of car.  Larger vehicles like tour buses and semis are prime cover.  Say that a nice big tour bus is to your right. Wait until it passes you, then quickly merge two lanes to the right. The cars on the other side will never see you coming.  
Buses are also a very effective disguise when merging into a higher-traffic road.  Stay as close as possible to the back end of them (preferably so they can't see you in their mirrors:  this is the prized "blind spot") and gun it as they push their way into traffic.  Other drivers will be confused into thinking that your car and the bus in front of you are one unit and let you through. 

3.  Out-Crazy the Crazies.

If you find that you are being crowded on the road, try foaming at the mouth.  This may be too subtle for most other drivers, or perhaps your windows are tinted.  In that case, place forks all over the outside of your car with chewing gum.  The gum will eventually loosen, causing forks to hurdle through the air behind you at random.  This is sure to get you more elbow room and will heighten the anxiety of other drivers.  The CDoT will thank you.

4.  Know which zone you are in.

There are three zones of driving in Chicago.  Downtown Chicago is not so bad to drive in.  The roads are in a grid, more or less, and there are predictable stoplights every few blocks.  This is typical big-city driving. 
The Multitasking Zone will test your reflexes and ability to do multiple things at once.  This mass of writhing, twisting, merging lanes winds around Downtown at top speed.  You must be able to read a map/GPS, watch for exits, merge, read billboards and ominous signage, and insult other drivers whilst navigating this zone. 
Finally, the Highway Robbery Zone.  This is the last stage in getting out of Chicago, and the CDoT will make you pay for that privilege.  All tolls are carefully designed to make absolutely no sense.  A stretch of less than a mile will cost you $4.50, whereas four or five miles equal $0.90.  In order to get your money's worth on the more expensive sections of road, I would suggest putting chains on your tires.  Some toll booths will have a black board with orange lights that spell out the required fee.  The CDoT lets most of the little orange bulbs burn out so the fee could be nearly anything.  You just better have enough quarters.  

Other booths will eject a paper ticket with the names of exits that have been turned into code.  Next to each cryptic name is a dollar amount that you must be prepared to fork out.  There is no way of knowing which amount you must pay until you reach the booth and a toll worker pronounces your fate.  

5.  Bring Dimes!

Who thinks to bring a fist full of dimes and nickels with them on a toll road?  Nobody!  The CDoT knows this.  As a result, they post many of their tolls at $1.90.  They have also measured the reach of the average human arm and placed the money slot four inches further up on the toll booth, necessitating drivers to actually put their car in park, unbuckle their seat belts, and get out of the car in order to feed the machine.  The gate lifts, then several seconds later the toll spits out change.  While the driver is trying to find their change in massive trough it drops into, hop back in their car, shut the door and put the car in drive, the gate has already closed and the toll must be paid again.  Some people have spent weeks at these tolls and lost their life savings.  Wisened drivers will leave their change in the trough and flee before the gate closes.  Trust me, it is worth losing the ten cents. 

Most other cities approach their transportation in a different way.  They use good marketing and clear maps to make their cities easier to get around in.  NYC, for example, sells shirts and mugs with the names of subway lines and a cute logo:

 Chicago sells shanks with the slogan "Don't get mad, get STABBY" engraved in the blade. 

To the people of Chicago:  I know it isn't your fault.  You drove in to sightsee and became disoriented. After a few days of being trapped in the city, you figured you might as well find a place to live and get a job.  Now you all walk or ride your bikes and never ever leave the city. 

In conclusion, my best advice for driving in Chicago is to never drive into Chicago.  Take the train or better yet, a tour bus.  And tip the driver very very well.

p.s. If you are towing a trailer, I would highly recommend you stay away from Chicago.  In all seriousness, don't go near it. 

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