Friday, October 03, 2003
I remember it was a beautiful sunny day in early June 1993 and I had just nudged my red rental Opel out of the lot at the Frankfurt airport. Across the way the autobahn glittered with the metallic twinkle of cars zipping past at typical NASCAR speeds and I felt two powerful competing emotions goosing my adrenal gland: The nowayIcangetonthatroad grip of fear and the eager Ican'twaittogetonthatroad response.
I got on the road.
I drove laughably slowly at first, but within minutes I was testing the engine of my smallish Opel and finding that the lack of speed governors can be a wonderful thing. Within ten minutes I had it over a hundred mph, and in a straight section of the autobahn on the way to Munich I was over one-fifty and and at some point it was almost a religious experience.
I was thinking about that, and realizing (as I got the hell out of the way of rotten driver after rotten driver on I-476) that unlimited speed on American highways would mean an appalling death toll. It's not that the Germans are smarter or more mature or even better drivers as much as they, being Germans, take rules seriously. On the autobahn, there are really only two rules.
First, no passing on the right, ever. It doesn't sound like such a big deal, but the knowledge that all passing will be to the left lets everyone know how the flow of traffic will go at all times. It removes pretty much all uncertainty from driver interactions.
Second, when someone comes up behind you and flashes highbeams, you must immediately move into the right lane. In America you're sort of supposed to do this already, but half the time the driver being high-beamed takes it as an insult to his masculinity and it's road rage time.
There isn't that much I miss about Germany. The weather is still just as crappy there as it was when Tacitus was complaining about it 2000 years ago, and the food is heavenly for three days, enjoyable for five, but after a week you're screaming for something that isn't meat.
But I do miss the autobahns.