Back in the folly of my youth (anytime prior to August 23, 2004), I swore vehemently that I would NEVER EVER get a driver’s license, as I did not want to be a part of the madness on the asphalt that masqueraded as licensed drivers here in Jamaica. I literally had a fear of the road and just about anything that I would have to encounter once I got behind a wheel: the taxi drivers, the bus and truck drivers, the pedestrians, the stoplights, the cyclists, the puss, the dog, the pig, the goat. I resigned myself to spending a fortune on taxi fare or being chauffeured from one place to another. Suffice it to say, I have been a maniac for ten years less ten days. On the very night of the day I finally got my license, I drove BY MYSELF in torrential rain. Less than a week later, I drove a carload of my friends to a parish a couple hours away in the night. I found that once I actually got behind that wheel, I got over my fears and became one of “them”.
In the time that I have been a licensed driver, there are some things I have had to learn on the spot when it comes to navigating the Jamaican road. For instance, there is no way you can be a Jamaican driver and not develop the ability to communicate telepathically with the driver ahead of you. How else are you going to know he intends to turn without him having to put on his indicator? Yes, man! Listen to that little voice in your head as you approach intersections and side roads that tells you, “Watch this fellow now. Look how him gwine (going to) turn and don’t put on him blinking (swear word) blinker.” And so said, so done. You can then pat yourself on the shoulder and go on your merry way knowing that you have avoided collision for yet another day.
Then there are the on-the-road social gatherings. I have learned to sit and wait while Driver X ahead of me stops his car in the middle of the road to talk to Driver Y, coming from the opposite direction, who has also stopped in the middle of the road. The result? Instant traffic jam. Some drivers are rather considerate though. They will not allow you to wait until they are done but will instead beckon for you to go around them. That’s when I will look down at my gear stick to check if I have been magically blessed with a vehicle that has “S” for “sidewalk” or “F” for “fly over”. Sadly, I usually have neither, and therefore must resign myself to waiting patiently for the conversation to end.
Another bane of my driving existence is that as a female driver, it is always assumed that I need assistance once I enter a parking lot. It irks me so. There is nothing that beats the look on a man’s face when he sees me parallel park or back up into a spot that is almost impossible and have my wheels perfectly aligned. It gives me equal pleasure to inch my way out of said spot with an inch to spare from brushing the car parked next to me. See ya!
As a Jamaican driver, there are several types of pedestrians that one must also be on the look out for:
1. The Indecisive One
This is the pedestrian who stands at the crossing or intersection and cannot seem to make up their mind whether or not they want to cross. Considerate driver that I am, I often slow down, as I am not quite sure what it is they want to do, and I don’t want to run the risk of having the next type, Pedestrian Number 2, on my hands.
2. The Me (I) Haffi (have to) Cross
This is the pedestrian who does not need the assistance of either the crosswalk or stoplight for them to exercise their right to cross the road anytime, anywhere, at any pace. These are the pedestrians who will send you to jail (I am dead serious) – if you should hit them, you know that’s a courthouse affair. (Now you see why I slow down for Number 1.)
3. The Better Late Than Never
This is the pedestrian who waits until the last possible second before the light changes (or, when the pedestrian ahead of them has stepped onto the sidewalk on the opposite side), before they choose to enter the crosswalk. Now, as if that were not painful enough, this is also the pedestrian who will look at you boldly as they meander oh-so-slowly across, as if to say, “Lik me if yuh tink yuh bad (If you’re bold, hit me)”. Considering that they are already getting a chance to cross while the driver’s frustration grows, you’d think they would have some consideration by putting some pep into their step – but no. This brings me to a brand new point as I segue back to my fellow drivers…
You have some drivers who seem to have been gifted with bionic vision. These are the ones who usually are behind you at a stoplight or other intersection who blow their horns constantly for you to move ahead because from where they are, BEHIND you, they can see IN FRONT OF YOU magically that the way is clear to proceed. Take it from me: it’s your car, your eyes, your life. I usually let them blow until thy kingdom come and when the way is clear, I go into molasses mode (moving VERY slowly) just to prolong their pain a little. (Hey, I have to get my own kicks somehow.)
I could go on and on and on about life on the Jamaican roads. I have ten years of experience after all. But I’ll save the rest for another time. In the meantime, if you’re ever on my rock and find yourself behind a wheel, just relax and take it easy. Drive cautiously, and get from point A to point B safely. You might be ticketed, shaken, amused, pissed: whatever your state of mind is when you exit the vehicle, just give thanks that you made it in one piece.