My Old Kentucky Homesite

Maybe I Should Rent “Turn Left at the End of the World”

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/09/2009

Today, two things happened that now make me realize I’m a full-fledged, albeit new, Kentuckian.

First of all, I now hold a Kentucky driver’s license. But I hope that doesn’t make me a Kentucky driver, since everyone on the road – at least here in Lexington – seems crazed. New Yawk cab drivers, who often travel as if they’re trying to simulate Disney’s Space Mountain, are novices compared to the people who careen up and down the streets of my new town. Apparently, you lose your right to drive if you let someone merge into your lane. And forget about making a left turn; you can’t do it. Instead, you might imagine a rectangle, and make three rights along its perimeter so you can head straight across the road you were just driving on. At least, that’s what you’d do in New Yawk City, which is laid out in a sensible grid, with ninety-degree angles. Unfortunately, Lexington is not laid out that way; it’s more like a bicycle wheel, with all of its spokes heading outward toward the appropriately named New Circle Road. So making a right and a right and a right may take you into the next county. Or back where you started from. Or into a different dimension of  space and time. The only thing that’s for sure is: You will not be pointing in the direction you want to go.

Once you do manage to enter the big ring, however, woe betide you if you happen to find yourself heading clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, or vice versa. You become like Charlie on the MTA, doomed to ride forever. Because you won’t be able to make a left until 1 a.m., when most Kentucky drivers are finally home in bed.

Lexington is the heart of the Bluegrass Region; it’s horse country. Perhaps that’s why so many of its residents drive like jockeys. This afternoon, for instance, I pulled out from a parking place at a bookstore, dutifully and slowly followed my aisle down toward the stop sign, and was suddenly cut off by an elderly woman who was zooming diagonally through the parking lot at about 95 miles an hour. Although there were dozens of spaces to choose from, she must have had her eye on a particularly choice spot as the finish line (although its specific value was unclear). In any case, she did everything but whip her car’s flanks to get there.

I can only suppose that the woman must have been in such a hurry because she was eager to get out of her vehicle and celebrate. She must have been relieved at finding her way somewhere. Anywhere, actually. Here in Lexington, you have to be a mind-reader to know how to get where you’re going, because street names change magically, for no apparent reason. Some of the major roads have two or three names, or even more. For example, Athens-Boonesboro Road becomes Richmond Road which transforms to Main Street before it transmogrifies into Leestown Road.  If you’re a newcomer to town, people who give you directions routinely forget to mention that a street they’ve sent you to may not exist in the immediate vicinity. “Take a right onto Harrodsburg and drive until you come to Red Mile. Make a right, and then a few blocks down, turn left onto Nicholasville.” Translation: “Broadway to Virginia to Limestone.” From Limestone/Nicholasville, you can drive straight until you come to Athens-Boonesboro/Richmond/Main/Leestown, whatever it happens to be called in that precise location – unless, of course, there’s a detour because of construction. Which, in my experience, there  always is.

The second thing that happened to make me feel at home was this: my wife and I finally found the box, from among hundreds still unpacked, that contained our DVD player. It took us so long to find because it was marked “Baskets, Ladles, Shells.” Now we realize that somewhere in our many piles is a box that contains baskets, ladles, and shells, so it must be the one marked “Bookends, Batteries, Unmatched Socks.”

Anyway, as I carefully plugged red to red, yellow to yellow, and white to white, I realized that I was about to start rebuilding my Netflix life. To help me adjust to my new surroundings, I immediately visited my online queue and added The Kentuckian, Kentucky Fried Movie and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Well, I’ve just noticed that the remote control needs batteries. I haven’t yet found the appropriate box (I’m guessing it’ll be the one that says “Bird Guides, Unpaid Bills, Hitchcock Flicks”), so I’ll drive to the nearest store to get Energized. It’s just a few blocks away, so it ought to be just a three-, maybe four-minute ride from my house. Although here in Lexington, it could take me several hours. Because to get there, I’ll have to make a left.

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4 Responses to “Maybe I Should Rent “Turn Left at the End of the World””

  1. srsny said

    I don’t recall your having a car when you lived in new yawk, so you may not be familiar with the tetris gambit. I’m going to try to put that in bold face: tetris . If you can’t drive with the tetris gambit in NYC, you really can’t get anywhere. It is especially effective on north-south one-way Avenues with staggered traffic lights – that is, the lights turn from red to green – and back again – in a sequence aimed at keeping the traffic speed constant.

    The goal in tetris – the game – is to manipulate various shapes so that they fill in all the spaces in any row. Same with driving in manhattan – you try to manipulate your car to fill in empty spaces between the cars in front of you. If you don’t, others will fill in those spaces and you will remain where you are – theoretically forever.

    Everyone here uses the tetris gambit, and non-players will often notice puzzled looks on the faces of the drivers who cut them off in the race to fill in the spaces.

    I suppose every locality has its own driving conventions. When I lived in Chapel Hill NC, drivers there were compulsively polite. No one ever seemed to be in a hurry there (just try to get a coffee-to-go anywhere in the Chapel Hill area when you are on your way to an appointment). When I returned home, friends were puzzled at why it was taking us so long to get anywhere, until I snapped out of it and got back into tetris mode.

  2. Srsny:

    Although the Tetris Gambit sounds cool, it won’t help you drive in Lexington. Because here, you’re pretty much committed to the Bridge-It Middle Game. The object of your drive is to get from one place to another, while your opponents form “bridges” of vehicles in an effort to block you.

  3. Evie said

    I remember those crazy street name changes. A positive effect of having so many street names (from a Chamber of Commerce point of view) is that it makes Lexington sound like a much larger city than it really is.

  4. Evie:

    Well, it may sound like a much larger city than it really is, but it’s actually smaller than it really is.

    However, to help out the Chamber of Commerce, my wife and I have decided to give our house two different numbers — on two “different” streets. Now, the Lexington Chamber can claim that even families of average income live in sprawling mansions here.

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