Through an unusual combination of commerce, academia and sheer luck/pluck/determination/serendipity, our small corner of the region has developed into an odd little world unto itself, far removed from many of the concerns of surrounding communities.
Our economy, fueled to some degree by newcomers from across the nation and globe, is beyond strong. And not only have these new residents brought with them sorely needed job skills, they've graced our community with more cosmopolitan influences than one would have any right to expect for a few small-ish cities in a somewhat remote portion of a small, poor Southern state.
Whether it's a world-class art museum, a more global perspective from our institutions of secondary and higher education or a bunch of really cool food trucks, Northwest Arkansas has, for the most part, welcomed new residents from localities near and far and allowed them to add their threads to the exciting new tapestry being woven up here in the hills.
There is, however, a small but insurance-affecting downside to all of this. It seems as a community both long-term residents and relative newcomers assimilate well (I had a curried chicken burrito the other day. Two incredible cultural influences in one. With a side of rice.), but we don't ... merge.
Or yield. Or navigate a parking lot. Or perform, in a somewhat orderly fashion, any of a thousand simple acts associated with driving. For most aspects of our lives, Northwest Arkansas is a living, breathing Coke commercial. Get us all on the highways and we're a combination of the U.S. House of Representatives and the United Nations, all debating climate change and Russian influence in the last election.
Full candor here: I learned to drive in Arkansas, and, frankly, we're not good. I have experience first-hand the somewhat scattershot attitude toward using turn signals or its sister offense, driving down the street with your blinker on, apparently in an effort to keep your options open.
We drive 50 in a neighborhood, 60 in the fast lane on the interstate and while we manage to park our full-sized trucks between two lines, they're not necessarily the two lines of the same spot.
So when a semi-native Arkansan says you drive ... differently, it's sort of like the captain of the Titanic saying you really seem to be getting a little close to icebergs.
It also doesn't help that most driving mores seem to resemble ancient cultural touchstones, passed down through the generations with no particular basis in reality or good reason for existence. Like haggis.
Ask newcomers from other states or countries what to do when a car tries to merge into their lane at an interstate on-ramp and you get answers varying from "move over to allow them in," speed up to compel them to merge behind you," or "start a world war."
Newcomers also need to be aware that some of the norms from their previous locales don't play as well here. For instance, in New York, drivers honk at each other as a way of communicating, like whales. Here, a honk is fightin' words. If, of course, it was actual words. But you get the idea.
And since we're not necessarily a pedestrian-based society, we seem confused as to the rules of crosswalks. Some of us stop and wait patiently if we see anyone in the same general ZIP code as one. Others seem to operate under the impression that "Pedestrian Crossing" signs are informing us that doctors who specialize in treating children are performing religious acts.
It is, however, somewhat reassuring (in a terrifying way) to note that, regardless of former address, no one seems to have any idea how to navigate a rotary or round-about or whatever those deals are actually called.
Basically, the rules seem to consist of a) yield to traffic on your left, b) keep to the right, c) abandon hope.
The beauty of all of this (even if you're not a body shop owner) is the regional mix will probably result in a unique driving style that is a meld of all the different techniques brought here. Think the amazing, beautiful ethnic mix of the residents of Miami or the street language in "Blade Runner."
So when you travel to some distant shore and pull through a diagonal parking spot so you're going the wrong way if you go forward to leave or start weaving in and out of cars in a coffee shop drive-through or think the correct response to honking is to wave, you can tell people, "I'm from Northwest Arkansas, and everyone drives like this up there."
And you'll be correct.
Commentary on 05/12/2017
Print Headline: Driven to get there