This is an account of a run-in (not literally, but almost) that I had with a visiting tourist on the road in downtown Santa Cruz.
It’s not a secret that Santa Cruz presents same tricky driving situations for tourists. Transplants and locals all know about the Fish Hook (avoid the left lane), the nonsense that goes on where Water St. meets Soquel Ave. and how confusing the one-ways by the Boardwalk are, as well as the circular streets near West Cliff.
The owner of the Circle Market told me recently that he designed an ad for his store that included a map of the area because people get rather confused around that part of town.
I try to be patient when I know a driver is out of their element here in Santa Cruz; it’s usually pretty obvious. I encountered such an individual over the summer, as we often do, trying to get (presumably) from downtown to the beach and/or Boardwalk.
The driver was ahead of me in a mini-van as we approached the intersection of Front St. and Pacific Ave., standard tricky territory for tourists. There’s no stop sign but there is a large, diagonal crosswalk, an opportunity for oncoming traffic to turn left or continue straight without stopping and beyond that, a confusing roundabout and our local version of Las Vegas level signage.
The driver was slowing to a potential stop at the crosswalk, which was without stop sign or pedestrian. An oncoming car continued without hesitation while another behind it slid into the left turn lane and stopped to wait for our newcomer.
The mini-van came to a complete stop, as I expected. The driver looked at the left turner, then in his rear view at me.
Now we were at an impasse. Nobody moved.
“Come on buddy, you can do it,” I said out loud. I was about to honk when he started moving. “Yes! That’s it!”
Then he quickly stopped again after five feet, which I also had to do. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t any reason to stop again except for his own self-doubt. I decided it was time to honk at him.
My earlier honk was going to be a friendly, Road Runner style meep-meep. But now we were entering a dangerous zone and I got frustrated. I gave the more angry version of the honk–a persistent and annoying buzz, the most intimidating noise that my Toyota Corolla can muster. I rolled my eyes and propped my left arm on the open driver’s side window as I waited for him to figure out that we were all waiting for him.
His window was also down and he chose to flip me off. It was a nice bird too: solid 90 degree technique on the arm bend, and it was the dirty one too; not the hard, fashionable variety. He had a fully-clenched granny fist with only the middle digit extended like a long, accusatory switch. It was a thing of beauty but it was a mistake nonetheless.
I believe he started to understand this as I burst into hysterical laughter in response to him flipping me off, which he clearly heard since both of our windows were down. I saw a pair of concerned eyes in his driver side mirror.
As a man, the last thing you want to hear in response to your own anger or aggression is sincere and outright laughter. Usually, it means the other person knows something you don’t. And I did.
I knew this was just the simple part of the equation, that the difficult part was yet to come. I knew that the sign in the picture to the left was the next complication for my fine, flustered friend.
He edged forward tentatively and I tried to give him space, knowing I had already made the situation more difficult.
He approached the yield sign of the roundabout gingerly, feeling it out as other cars quickly navigated their way through. He steered right as I cheered him on from my car and I thought he was going to be okay as he passed the second yield sign.
Then came the West Cliff Dr., Pacific Ave., Depot Park options and he got overwhelmed. To be fair, it’s three drastically different turning options in the space of about 40 feet. But again, no stop sign. This did not stop our mini-van driver from treating it as such.
He pulled to a stop inside of the roundabout, near the public parking turnout to Depot Park so as to add another complicating element to the intersection. I drove by (still laughing) and looked over at him. The driver threw up his arms as if to say, “I don’t know what to do!”
Don’t worry my friend, we know all too well