I’ve noted several things about life in South Carolina that perhaps didn’t surprise me, but seemed noteworthy nonetheless: the ubiquity of iced tea (which is always sweetened unless you specify otherwise), the necessity of waving at passing cars, etc. What I hadn’t noticed so much until recently is the attitude toward speed limits.
In the DC area, and as far as I know pretty much every metro area north of it, those white rectangular signs really designate the lower limit, not the upper one. If the sign says 55 and you’re not going at least 60, there had better be a traffic jam slowing you down. Otherwise, people are going to honk and blow past as though you were standing still. They might gesticulate creatively at you as they fly by.
Here, it seems, 55 is more of a suggestion of something to shoot for if you’re in a hurry. There are speeders around here, certainly, but what I seem to see more of is what we might charitably call “slow pokes.” Going 50 in a 55 zone is not only acceptable, it seems to be the norm. People will pass a car plodding along at 45, but no one seems to get upset over it.
Not long ago I was driving on one of those little two-lane highways that are so curvy the double yellow seems to go on forever. The speed limit was 55. Very soon I came up against a minivan in front of me going not 50, not 45, but 35 miles an hour.
Of course I was in a rush—something of a rarity for me. I slowed to a crawl and watched that double yellow wind lazily by me with no end in sight. We approached a broad curve, the kind that’s marked with a yellow caution sign suggesting 35 m.p.h. as a safe speed. You know, the kind of sign they don’t even bother to post on city roads because they know nobody would even look at them. We entered the curve—and the minivan’s brake lights came on! Heaven forbid it should encounter this road hazard actually traveling at the suggested cautionary speed!
Well, suffice it to say that eventually the highway straightened out, I passed the minivan, and I was ten minutes late for my meeting. But what struck me about this incident was how very differently country people and city people think about time. I won’t even say it’s southern versus northern, but in this part of South Carolina, there still exist people who are not in a rush. I think a New Yorker might suffer a coronary just watching that minivan go by, much less getting stuck behind it. I know my blood pressure went up in those few minutes, and I consider myself a patient person.
Maybe I have something more to learn from this area than how to enjoy tea for the first time in my life. Maybe it’s worth remembering that, even if we can’t stop and smell the flowers, once in a while we can at least drive by them at 35 miles an hour.