Totally Relaxed Across the Flatlands

A road trip in the U.S. quickly transports you into the world of Tarantino and the A-Team. No need to fear the huge vehicles on their roads; it’s almost like floating along on the highway.

America’s love of cars is nearly unshakable. I got a vivid reminder of the fact that nothing here moves without a car on a recent road trip through the Deep South. While it’s possible to easily get around San Francisco and New York using public transportation, nothing goes anywhere in more rural regions without a car. One is practically isolated on the flatlands of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee or South Carolina if you don’t have a car. Distances are too great and alternatives to having your own vehicle are practically non-existent.

That’s why Americans drive their own cars whenever they leave the house. They always drive. Gasoline is still ridiculously cheap. Our mid-sized rental car costs about $28 (about 21 euros) to fill up. And most people here don’t drive mid-sized cars; they drive big cars — really big cars.

Simply put, on this Deep South trip I basically encountered three kinds of vehicles: The “A-Team” type, a large van like the one used in the eponymous TV series; the “Colt Seavers” type, an impressively large pickup truck like the one in the TV series “Fall Guy”; and the “Stuntman Mike” type, macho models like the Chevy Nova, Dodge Charger or Ford Mustang that you’ll recognize from Tarantino films such as “Death Proof.”

Naturally, they all have darkly tinted windows so nobody can recognize you or your passengers. And they all have obnoxious paint jobs that scare you even before you can see who’s behind the wheel. Anyone driving a modest South Korean compact rental may feel somewhat threatened among such muscular company on the highway.

Leave the Car? Not Necessary

Much is naturally geared toward drivers. Want to get some cash and pay a few bills? No problem. Just go to a drive-up teller window at the bank and you don’t even have to get out of your car. Coffee and a pastry in the morning? Get it delivered through your open car window. It goes without saying that it’s the same with a burger or a pizza. Even the drug stores and pharmacies offer the same service.

Worthy of note here is a fast food outlet that goes by the name “Sonic.” There you drive up to a stall with a menu and an intercom, give your order, and in a few minutes it’s brought to you by a uniformed server on roller skates. You dine on the spot in your own car.

But the best part about driving in America is the speed limit. No, really. In Germany, most people floor the accelerator to see what their old crate can do; in America, everything is much more relaxed. Driving is more like gliding or puttering along; almost like floating. The speed limit on highways is 70 MPH (112 kilometers per hour), and even that often goes down to 45 or 55 MPH (72 to 88 kilometers per hour).

Nobody drives faster. There are no maniacs booming up behind you and stressing you out by flashing their headlights. Here, the speed limit is the great equalizer, period. And should anybody start feeling their oats, the sheriff or the highway patrol stand ready to bring them to their senses. Such eventualities are covered by clever lawyers. Gigantic billboards with their portraits line the highway and advertise their services: “Problem with the police? Better call Saul!” Greetings from “Breaking Bad.” The law ensures everybody just cruises along — even Stuntman Mike.

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