This is the first of three excerpts from the book ‘Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster)’ by Dave Barry, to be released by Putnam on March 3.
A letter to my daughter as she becomes eligible for a Florida learner’s permit:
Dear Sophie —
So you’re about to start driving! How exciting! I’m going to kill myself.
I apologize if you think I’m overreacting. But just because the State of Florida thinks you can drive a car, that doesn’t mean you actually can drive a car. As far as I can tell, after three decades on the roads of Florida, there isn’t anybody that the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t think can drive a car. I cannot imagine what you would have to do to fail the driving test here.
DMV OFFICER: OK, make a left turn here.
TEST TAKER: Whoops.
DMV OFFICER: (Writes something on clipboard.)
TEST TAKER: Does that mean I fail the test?
DMV OFFICER: Nah, she’s getting back up. You just clipped her.
You may think I’m exaggerating the badness of the drivers down here, Sophie, but that’s because you haven’t been at the wheel of a car on the Palmetto Expressway going 60 miles per hour, traveling forward — which, as you will learn, is considered to be the traditional direction for vehicular traffic on expressways — only to encounter a vehicle, undoubtedly operated by a licensed Florida driver, going backward. And not on the shoulder, either. In your lane. This has happened to me more than once; it’s how some Miami drivers handle the baffling problem of what to do when you miss an exit. When ESPN shows a NASCAR highlight in which drivers collide at 150 miles per hour and a dozen cars spin out in a whirling mass of flaming wreckage, my reaction is: “Big deal. They were all going the same direction. Let’s see them attempt to drive on the Palmetto Expressway.”
The State of Florida also does not seem to have a problem issuing licenses to drivers who are very elderly. I once had an eye exam during which the ophthalmologist was telling me about some of his older patients, who according to him were basically blind. He said: “I ask them, ‘How did you get here?’ And they tell me they drove. And I tell them, ‘You can’t drive. You can’t see.’ And they say, ‘How else am I supposed to get here?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know, but you can’t drive, because you can’t see.’ And then they drive home.”
I believe him. I once had a short but terrifying ride on the streets of South Florida in the backseat of a car driven by an elderly man. He was a perfectly nice person, but he had basically the same level of visual acuity as a corn dog. So he out-sourced the actual seeing part of driving to his wife, who sat in the passenger seat and did her best to keep him posted on what was going on out there in the mysterious region beyond the windshield.
“You have a green arrow,” she’d say. “Go. Go. I said GO! No! Wait! Stop! STOP!!”
So to summarize, Sophie: Many people who lack the judgment and/or physical skills needed to safely microwave a burrito are deemed qualified by the State of Florida to operate a motor vehicle. Also, there’s a big difference between how the Florida Driver’s Handbook says you should drive and how actual humans drive in Florida, especially South Florida. So to help you understand the mind-set you will encounter on the roads here, I’ve prepared this:
REALITY-BASED FLORIDA DRIVER’S Q&A
Q. I have noticed that some roads have more than one lane. What is the purpose of the extra lanes?
A. To provide a place for you to swerve into while texting.
Q. How is the turn signal used in Florida?
A. It is used to indicate to other motorists that you do not realize your turn signal is blinking.
Q. Could it also be used to signal your intention to turn or change lanes?
A. Interesting! Nobody has ever tried that.
Q. What is the best kind of food to eat while driving?
A. Any food that can be eaten one-handed, so you still have a hand free for texting.
Q. What if an emergency situation arises that might require me to operate the steering wheel?
A. Use your forehead to honk the horn until the emergency has passed.
Q. My car’s engine seems to have stopped and I hear a “burbling” noise. What could be causing this?
A. Are you a senior citizen?
A. You have driven into a swimming pool.
Q. I am a young male idiot who prefers to drive at a high rate of speed in densely populated areas while texting. How loud should my sound system be?
A. It should emit individual bass notes capable of killing a dog at 50 yards.
Q. I’ve had a few drinks. How can I tell if I should drive?
A. Take this simple test: Are you wearing your underpants on your head?
Q. Not MY underpants, no.
A. Then you are good to go.
Q. What is all that shouting?
A. Are you a senior citizen?
A. You have struck a pedestrian.