I lived in Indonesia for a semester back in 1988. The first thing that I learned there was DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE. The only ‘rule” seemed to be that, like the U.S., you drive on the right side of the road, but you move quickly to the shoulder if a vehicle larger than yours is coming toward you. Yes, there are becaks, bikes, motorcycles, Bemos, and trucks that look like giant Star Wars transport vehicles everywhere. If Norman Rockwell had been Indonesian, he would have had a wholly different perspective, and probably would have chain-smoked Djarums.
It wasn’t unusual to see bikes riding past with squawking chickens tied to the handlebars; huge clouds of black smoke, billowing from the backs of the tiny Bemos, and helmetless motorcycle riders tooling along with the big trucks. When they taught us about “defensive driving” in drivers ed, no one mention “aggressive driving.” I was not prepared for this, even as a passenger.
Now, I enjoy a thrill, just like the next person. Anita, my classmate, and I traveled from Hawaii together. When we arrived in Denpasar, Bali, for our layover on the way to Malang, Java, we decided to cab it into town for some horrid tourist-like curiosity. Let me just say, I will never forget that ride. While Anita sat with her head in her lap, eyes covered, I clamped my white knuckles onto the back of the front seat, and grinned from ear to ear. There isn’t a ride at Cedar Point more exciting, more frightening, or more shocking than the ride with that Balinese cab driver from the airport.
The beautiful thing about driving in Indonesia is that everyone pretty much follows the rules. There are few accidents, and when there are, people simply drag the offending driver out or off of their vehicle and beat the living crap out of them. This is how it’s done. It’s all very Zen-like. It’s similar to a giant game of Rock Paper Scissors. Bike beats lady walking with water buffalo; Bemo beats Motorcycle; Giant truck beats everything. Chickens don’t really stand a chance unless tied to handlebars.
Now, when I moved back to the U.S. everything on the road was as it should be. People drove a little fast in Holland, Michigan, but for the most part people yielded to the rules we’d learned at 16. Highland Park, IL is a different story. I am truly not sure how these people acquired licenses, but I presume their daddy’s either bought them or FAO Schwarz has some terrific prizes in the bottoms of their special Crackerjack boxes.
Even in Indonesia, I didn’t witness the kind of aggressive, frightening behavior as we have here. Like Los Angeles, people drive to every destination, even if their destination is a block away. People are in a hurry. They have to get to their manicure appointments, the stylist, the plastic surgeon, and the all-important “play date.” Rock Paper Scissors is different. Ducati beats Vespa; H1 beats H2; and mom driving Lincoln Navigator beats everything. I just put on my seatbelt, set my angry face, and pray that I survive driving the three blocks to work.