This Side of The Pond – Sept. 12

By Sarah Pridgeon

Last week, I indicated at a deer. By doing so, I definitively proved that I am of no use in an emergency because my natural reactions are not merely inappropriate – sometimes they’re actually bizarre.
As we drove home from Spearfish, the sun began to set. I have learned that this typically means we have three minutes of light left before the night comes crashing down.
It didn’t particularly concern me because I’ve driven in the dark before, but I have come to accept that it’s precisely that sort of attitude which gets me into trouble. Right on cue, a deer darted out of the undergrowth and sprinted across the road ahead of us.
I’d been instructed in dealing with such a situation, but it was my first opportunity to put my training into action. And I’m proud to announce that I handled it almost perfectly: I stepped on the brakes, without slamming them down, and neither spun the wheel nor attempted to swerve. We came so close to the deer that my right hand bumper almost skimmed its hind quarters, but I successfully failed to hit it.
What I did do, however, is indicate a left turn.
I’ve thought about my reaction often since that night, but I still can’t come up with a logical reason for it. There are numerous buttons and switches on a vehicle that it would have made some semblance of sense to press, but not that one.
I might have turned the windscreen wipers on, for example, which I could have explained as an attempt to remove the surprised deer from my windshield. I could have turned my brights on, which I would later have claimed was to see the oncoming danger more clearly. I could even have turned my hazard lights on as there was, after all, a hazard.
But I did none of these things. Instead, I indicated an impossible turn – I was already in the left-hand lane so there wasn’t a whole lot of left for me to go.
Not that I even intended to do so. I was concentrating on the slowing down process at the time and thanking the heavens I am capable of following instruction when it doesn’t involve complicated maneuvers.
As soon as I work out the convoluted mental mathematics that led to my ridiculous reaction, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I will treat night driving with the respect I have acknowledged it deserves.
The first time I drove here at night, it was on the way home from a board meeting in Moorcroft, shortly after I earned my license. I was similarly blasé about it, having often traveled long distances of an evening back in England and under the impression that something so universal as the night time couldn’t possibly be any different.
I never learn, do I? That night, I chalked up another small disparity in this parallel universe we call America that makes a big difference to how a situation should be handled. In this case, it was a question of size. The detail I failed to register is that the United States is a very, very big country with lots and lots and lots of road.
In England, we only have about a mile and a half of motorway, so we could afford to light every last inch of it with Olympic torches made of actual gold if we felt like it (and they have a fair few left over from last summer so, at some point, we probably will). Here, on the other hand, the same process would require prohibitive tax dollars and an unthinkable level of manpower.
In Wyoming, we also suffer much less from ambient light. Stargazing is an absolute joy, but night driving is much more challenging to master and certainly not a skill I should be taking for granted.
And so I hurtled home, desperately searching for the switch that activates the brights on my brand new car, hoping to be able to see more than a foot ahead of the hood while wondering how far I was going to get before a curve in the road took me by surprise.
As you know, the only towns within a 60 mile radius were the ones I was coming from and the one I was heading to. By contrast, you’re never far from a large city when you drive in the UK and the ambient light seldom leaves you behind. Even when the moon is in hiding, you’d be hard pressed to find full darkness anywhere on the island.
Not to mention the proliferation of fellow drivers whose headlights shine alongside your own. No matter the time of day, the chances are good that you will encounter a 15-mile tailback somewhere along your route. These things occur for no more complicated reason than that England is small, and English drivers are many.
We have also adorned our roads with Cat’s Eyes, so called because they emulate the reflective properties of a cat’s eye when you shine a light into it (but not the bit where the cat bites you really hard for your insolence). They’re durable little buggers designed to sink into the road when you drive over them and they vary in color to show you what part of the road you’re currently traveling.
The US equivalents are called Bott’s Dots, but these are apparently of no use in areas where snow removal must take place. Wyoming would therefore not be a candidate for dotting even if it wouldn’t take a billion or so to cover the mileage.
Ambient light, reflective eyeballs and street lights as far as the eye can see: all these things conspire to make driving on an English night not much different to driving during an English day. You can vividly see what you’re aiming for and how many twists and turns you’ll encounter to get there and you can’t go very fast because there’s a thousand vehicles in your way even in the middle of the night.
For an Englishwoman on the highways of Crook County, on the other hand, it turns out that you’d better hope you’ve been eating your carrots. Otherwise, you have a higher-than-average chance of doing something truly inexplicable if you find yourself in peril.