The thing about driving in Utah is, it’s kind of like taking a detour into Bartertown. Sure, you were just minding your own business, driving along the back roads of the American west, maybe treating your dog to a nice vacation and doing your best to improve the lives of feral desert-dwelling children, and then suddenly you find yourself in a Thunderdome cage match, fighting to the death under the approving gaze of Tina Turner.
All of what I just said is absolutely true, except for the part about Tina Turner.
It’s possible that you came to this land on purpose, or that it wasn’t worth the hassle to drive around it on your way to somewhere else, or that your ancestors’ plane crashed here and you don’t know how to escape. I suppose it’s not far-fetched that anybody would come here on purpose; certainly Utah is jam-packed with natural splendor, if you’re into that sort of thing, and Mormons, if you’re into that sort of thing, and apparently a growing number of vegan eating establishments, if my newspaper is to be believed. But the trouble is mostly that it’s packed full of Utahns. And for reasons that nobody can quite explain, they insist on driving to places.
The minute you hit that border, mark my words, it is going to be like The Lord of the Flies up in here. One minute you’re driving along in a civilized fashion, using your turn signals and gallantly allowing traffic to merge, and the next thing you know you’re passing on the right, you’re squeezing into spaces that only Mini Cooper drivers could contemplate before, and you’re using the broken fenders and blood-stained seatbelts of your vanquished foes to create your own personal body armor.
Hey, nobody’s going to blame you. Once you’re across that border, all bets are off, and it’s up to you to protect your car and your family of four and the dog and your extensive collection of Journey cassette tapes. And if that means mounting a harpoon on the roof of your Subaru or ripping out a grown man’s throat with your teeth while hanging out the window of a vehicle doing 75 miles per hour on the highway, then so be it.
To give you the best chance of surviving your foray onto Utah’s practically post-apocalyptic roadways, I would like to offer you some important rules to live by.
1. Every other driver on the road is your enemy. Show them no mercy.
This is the first and most important rule. You might think that lady in the minivan with ten kids in the back is just some soccer mom hauling pretty much the whole team to a match, but in reality those hooligans are her road gang and they are prepared to bathe in your blood. Always remember to screw the other guy before he can screw you; it’s every man for himself in the arena, and as we all know, two men enter, one man leaves. Of course, that doesn’t mean that other drivers won’t form alliances in order to screw you over harder than a single man could do alone. These roadways are full of roving gangs of minivans and they are not afraid to Mormon roadblock you.
2. In order to deter attack, you must engage in displays of dominance.
You stand a better chance of surviving if other drivers are too frightened to fight you. This is why you must engage in ritual displays that will intimidate other drivers. The way in which you drive can send a strong message; for instance, if you always drive with a distance of only 0.2 microns between your front bumper and another vehicle’s rear bumper, it’s sort of the equivalent of humping the other driver’s leg while chanting, “Yeah, you like that, don’t you? Who’s my bitch? Who’s my good little bitch?” By refusing to allow other vehicles to merge in front of you, you signal your unwillingness to be mounted. Should you choose to decide to drive in two lanes at once rather than picking a single lane, this is a lot like lifting a leg and marking your territory. You get the idea. By engaging in subtle — and completely unsubtle — displays of dominance, you will demonstrate to other drivers your willingness to destroy them and to violate their spouses. This will also help you to identify which of the other drivers on the road will challenge you — they’ll attempt their own dominance displays in response — and which ones will roll over and piss themselves.
3. Predictability is the same thing as kill-ability.
An enemy who can anticipate your movements is an enemy who can effectively target you. This is why it is essential to keep your movements unpredictable, and actively practice misdirection. Never use your turning signals, except when you are not actually turning. Have you encountered a roundabout? Treat it like a four-way stop. Actual four-way stop? You go when you decide, not when the law dictates; hell, roll right through that bad boy, or refuse to go even when it’s your right-of-way. Traffic light out? Just blast through there as fast as you can, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Train coming? Flip a U-turn across the tracks; an oncoming train is a great way to shake pursuers, if you manage to survive. I know because I saw it in a movie once. I think it had Vin Diesel in it.
4. Take every opportunity for clever concealment.
Of course, you’ll be wanting to cut other drivers off as much as possible — as we’ve discussed, if anybody’s going to be doing any leg-humping here, it ought to be you — so it’s important to practice concealing yourself on the open roadway. When beginning to overtake another vehicle, spend as long as possible in that vehicle’s “blind spot,” that area where you are nearly invisible thanks to your disappearance from the other driver’s rearview mirror. Imagine yourself as a lion on the savannah, creeping up on a helpless baby gazelle. You may also find it helpful to conceal yourself by finding a large vehicle — like a camper or eighteen-wheeler — and driving so close to the bumper that it looks like you are in fact being towed. It is the perfect camouflage, particularly from police, and though it may seem dangerous to be following that closely at highway speeds, I’m sure you’ve seen The Fast and the Furious plenty of times, so you’ve got this.
5. Posted signs and road markers may be misleading. Do not trust them.
We all know that posted speed limits are merely meant as a challenge and that lowered railroad crossing arms are just an excellent opportunity to teach your car how to jump hurdles like a fine show pony. But road signs and markers in Utah add an extra layer of complexity that will keep you second-guessing even as you’re trying to engage in open combat with your fellow drivers. There may or may not be a sign to let you know that your lane is about to end abruptly. You may be rerouted into a single slow-moving lane for months by construction signs which never actually yield forth any construction. (More the fool you if you accept these delays by following the directions of construction signs. They’re not the boss of you.) When it rains, you are entering a special bonus round in which the lines on the road completely disappear and you are free to occupy as many lanes as you possibly can at any one time, while engaging in a billiards-like driving strategy where instead of simply turning the wheel to direct your vehicle to the appropriate off-ramp, you merely careen into the vehicle next to you and use the rebounding force of the impact to propel you in the right direction.
I know what you’re thinking. Utah? The reality can’t be that hard-core. Those people are known for their ties and their interesting ideas about marriage, not for their murderous road rage. Surely the drivers are worse in places like New York or Boston or Los Angeles. (Little-known fact: Drivers in LA are intense but you can rest assured knowing they’re all stunt drivers.) And it might be true that drivers elsewhere are more aggressive, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any drivers who pay any less attention to the road than Utahns. I think maybe it’s because they’re expecting God to protect them and also they had a very poor science education. They don’t realize that two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time. Oh, and also, they want to kill you and use your sun-bleached skull as a football. I’d wish you luck, but honestly, I have to drive here too, so now that you know how to survive your next foray into the Deseretdome, I sincerely hope that you’ll stay out of my way because otherwise I will have to destroy you and everything that you love.