Sunday, November 27, 2005

Left or Right?

When I first came to the US in 2001, I adjusted surprisingly fast to living in an "alien" land. This could be attributed to the fact that Davis is the very definition of a university town - a population majorly consisting of students from various corners of the world, a safe environment, a small but self-contained city. It also helped a lot that Davis is located in the liberal state of California - the demographic diversity made sure that I never felt like a "foreigner" from day one.

However, one thing which took a lot of getting used to was driving on the right side of the road as opposed to the left side of the road as is practised in India. Normally this shouldn't have mattered a lot - I was just a student then and driving a car was a distant dream. And no one cares really where you walk.

However Davis, besides being an university town, was a city of bicycles - meaning that almost everyone relied upon bicycles as the primary means of transport. I had to get a bike too if I did not want to wear out my feet due to constant walking. So I bought a bike. In spite of not having rode a bike for some time, I did manage to get around okay. Other than one problem. When I rode a bike, for some reason, I always rode it on the sidewalk. On the left side of the road. I think it created some illusion of being in India! Anyways, I kept this up for almost 2 weeks after which an old guy standing on the sidewalk treated me to such a delightful collection of choice expletives that I got shocked into riding on the road again. So I was forced to constantly remind myself to keep to the right side of the road.

One day, about a month after my arrival in Davis, I was riding to the my department from my apartment. The route was fairly straightforward. To turn into the lane leading to my department, I had to go around a small triangular island and turn left. I usually used to do this correctly. However, that particular day, I was feeling lazy and decided to take a "short-cut". Instead of going around the divider, I just biked over to the left side of the road and continued on the left side for the short distance before I had to turn left. Suddenly I heard a ear-piercing whistle behind me and turned around to see a bike-cop (yes, Davis had cops specially for monitoring bicycle users). Gulp! The cop asked me if I was an international student. I dumbly nodded. Then he asked me if I knew that I was on the wrong side of the road. I tried to look as innocent as possible and said that I thought I was on the wrong side and would he please forgive me.

The cop then continued to state that I could be fined $93 (aaaarghhh) for the violation that I had just committed and he was letting me go since I was a new international student but I better watch out or he would definitely fine me the next time. Then he let me go. I promptly got on my bike and continued to pedal on the left side of the road. The bike cop blew his whistle again and I told him smartly that since it was just a matter of a couple of feet, I would just continue on the left side. I think this was when the bike cop would have really loved to give me the biggest ticket possible. Instead he managed to only grit his teeth and tell me that I had to go around the island if I did not want a ticket! This time I did go on the right side!

Now I realize that it wasn't very smart of me to ride on the left side in the first place. And even less smart to be cheeky to a cop! In any case, I found out from the seniors later that if a bike cop accosted you at the beginning of any quarter, you could always feign ignorance due to being a new "international" student and get away with it most of the time! Sometimes being a "foreigner" helps ;-)!

From the days of mistaking left and right, nowadays I have the exact reverse problem. Whenever I go to India, for the first few days, anticipating an accident, I always close my eyes when people drive me on the left side!


Archana Bahuguna said...

Good one Archana, interesting read :-). You have guts. :-)

This left right problem is soooo understandable. You have to keep shouting "keep right" keep right" in your head all the time! In fact, even these roads they suddenly become 1 lane from 3-lane; once I drove into the opposite lane of the road and dint realise till Inder banged it into my head :-). Thankfully no cop saw. :-) I even have a problem switching on and off the lights. Sometimes, i try to switch on a light which is already on and wonder whats happening! :-)

Saranya Kishore said...

Hey Arch, :)
Good one. The town I studied is also a major Univ town, and while crossing the road, I always lookedleft and then right, like we do in India :)
And since I never really drove a car in India, right side driving is the only driving I know ;) I dont think I can drive a car in India now, it would be a nightmare!!
How was Thanksgiving??

Archana said...

Archana, those light switches befuddle me too :-(!! I always have to think of which way is right in India and then do the reverse!!

Saranya, driving in India now will definitely be a scare!! I had a nice tnxgiving - maybe will put up a post abt that :-)! How was your tnxgiving? Had fun with K?

Shilpa said...

Hey Archu,

Even I hv got confused so many times while driving; esp when I have to make a left turn at any light, I would automatically turn into the right lane if there were no vehicles ! Took me a while to get used to it.

Ginkgo said...

athu yaaru antha foto la..

orru azhaga 'mama' irukkar :-)

But frm what I remember, those walking shd walk facing the oncoming traffic...and there was no reason for the pedestrian to abuse u :-)

not sure if the same logic holds for cyclists :-)

Archana said...

Shilpa, hehhe, good thing u did not get caught!!

Gingko, adhu yaar-nnu enakku theriyadhu - google images-la yaaro maama irundhaar :-D!! I think they used have boards saying no bicycles on the sidewalk - which, of course, I chose to ignore ;-)!

spark said...

well, i can't relate to this post. but still, it's interesting to hear that you girls celebrate thanksgiving! :-)

Bharathi said...

During our U.S. visit, do you remember how we used to close our eyes and shriek when you were driving and turned a free right!

Saranya Kishore said...

TG was good.
Looking fwd to reading about yours! :--)

Archana said...

Spark, any festival which results in a looooooong weekend demands celebration ;-)!! My tnxgiving's major feature was giving thanks for the vacation :-D!

Heheh, I remember how I almost ran into another car because Daddy shrieked when I turned onto the right side of the road!!

Saranya, will put up that post soon...good to see you are back in blogging action :-)!