Now instead of driving poorly in Alaska, I drive poorly in Baja Sur. And I LIKE it. Everybody runs stop signs. Little old ladies, 12 year old kids, cops, everybody. In fact running stop signs has evolved into an art-form. You approach a 4-way stop at regular driving speed and don't even consider hitting the brakes until you see another car already in the intersection because he rolled into it a split-second before you. I'm thinking that there may have been ice here at one time.
I got an inkling that I wasn’t driving in Kansas anymore during my first trip down the Baja Peninsula. I was stuck behind a slowpoke in a curvy section of hills and had been creeping along for several miles. I was so completely over having to follow this guy. In fact I was darned close to hyperventilating when I came around a corner and there ahead of me was a little straight stretch. In a microsecond I did the mental math and knew I could pass. The Hallelujah Chorus started playing in my head and all my frustrations were throwing each other high 5's. Just as I was mashing the gas and yelling “YEEEE HA!” the guy in front of me turned his left blinker on. Talk about your basic mood change! We're out here in the middle of Nowheresville, BCS, Mexico and this guy is turning left? I don’t see no stinking left turn. I breathed in a paper bag that I keep under the seat for such emergencies. Then I realized that since the guy was going to turn he would be out of my way. So I backed off a bit and waited for him to turn. “Why he no turn?” said my inner voice. The voice had a point. So I re-did the calculus and I realized that we were getting closer and closer to the point of no return: me not being able to pass. He didn’t turn, still didn’t turn, not turning still and I couldn't see a place for him to turn. Then: he DIDN’T TURN! Instead, He turned OFF his blinker and continued on his way.
Are you kidding me? What kind of sick joke is that? This poor guy is being followed by a crazed Americano who watches too much TV and owns guns. Dude! Are you sure you want to play road rage games??? Finally I was able to pass after a few more curves. As I passed, I saw that the driver was an ancient Mexican farmer who was concentrating on his driving so hard that I couldn’t even imagine he would do turn-signal jokes. Finally after a similar scenario replayed itself a few times while traveling south, I realized that the drivers were trying to signal me that the road was clear and probably safe to pass. Go figure. I take back all that verbal abuse and those hand signals. Please forgive me. Ok stay mad then. I said I was sorry for crying out loud.
Listen up: when they give you the left blinker, sometimes they are telling you what to do, not letting you know what they are doing. Hmmmm. Bass ackwards from what I was taught but hey, I have at least half a brain; I can learn the system. As I continued down the Baja, I checked my theory a few times and sure enough it worked.
A few years and many lessons later I was driving North towards Todos Santos just at sunset. As I came over a little rise, there was a car in front of me with the left blinker on. I went through my checklist: Left blinker on and driving on a straight stretch? Yes. Is there a car coming? Yes. This meant that maybe this was a real left turn signal or the driver was bored and wanted to see if I could avoid the ensuing head-on crash when I tried to pass. So I followed patiently for several miles. The car didn’t turn left so I decided that it was a false blinker and really didn’t mean anything. I waited until I saw a safe stretch with no oncoming traffic and started to pass. As I pulled even with the other car, the driver turned left off the highway. She was completely and blissfully unaware of my very existence as I was about to run into her car! Well at least she gave me plenty of notice, no? I hit the brakes hard and turned left with her, hoping that we could both make the turn. While my little voice was screaming, “Mo brake!!! mo brake!!!,” we exited the highway: she driving nonchalantly and I standing on the brake pedal and crying out for God to save me. After spinning a couple of circles, crashing through the dirt and cactus and a couple of fences, my car slid to a stop. I squinted through the billowing cloud of the man-made dirt storm. As I watched, the woman in the other car casually drove away into the beautiful red skies while the left blinker could still be seen glowing through the little clouds of dust that streamed from her tires. She was looking straight ahead, smiling and totally unconcerned that my poor cleaning lady was not going to be happy with the contents of my boxers.
Is there a lesson buried somewhere in this? Maybe.
If you drive in Baja California Sur, you will eventually encounter a left blinker that even the owner of the blinker doesn't know its purpose. You MUST approach every left blinker with deep suspicion and mistrust. If the car in front of you has its left blinker on, it might mean he's turning left. It may mean he wants you to pass. It could mean that he's drunk and is using his emergency flashers to warn everyone about his condition but the right blinker is burned out. What it most likely means is that Paco is tone-deaf and his wife isn’t in the car nagging him to turn it off.
So now I’m looking for an old car, something like a '59 Cadillac with those cool fins. I want to cut off the back two feet or so and hang it on the wall. I'll wire the left blinker to operate continuously.
Friends will come over and see the classic rear-end of a Cadillac on the wall and say “Hey that’s cool, but why is the left blinker on?”
“Oh that. It means the same thing as it does out on Highway One here in Baja: Absolutely nothing.”