The difference is elusive. Everywhere else I've driven, I've noticed a few small differences that were explicable when I'd absorbed a bit of the local culture. The Minnesotan urge to stop at the base of an acceleration ramp when there's no obvious opening reflects the polite, quiet demeanor of the people. New Yorkers, like myself, will drive 5 miles on the shoulder before losing the initial momentum afforded by the ramp. Giving up a natural advantage just because there's no immediate application is anathema to us. Although the cultural differences take a while to discern, the two opposing acceleration curves are hard to miss. Literally.
Which brings us to California. I've been here a while, and I think by now I would understand the people better. Nope; I'm not one bit closer than the day I arrived. The special charm of California drivers is that they're unfathomable.
Sometimes I think that the state's drivers collude to provide puzzles to break up the monotony of a daily commute. They just agree to change lanes randomly to make me wonder if there's some system that I haven't been able to discern. Sometimes they will preface a turn with a lethargic drift from the opposite lane that nearly devours the car's velocity before it finally executes the turn. Other times the turn will be a 5G snap that would make any New Yorker proud of its kinetic-energy hoarding. Often the same car will display both behaviors in a matter of blocks.
But it's the random stop that fascinates me. Cars will just trail off to a halt as though the driver has just been struck by a thought too profound to be pushed aside. These aren't for any discernible purpose: no stunning sunset, no grisly accident, no gunfights. It's just an unrehearsed pause in the day that happens behind the wheel.
Well, that's what I keep telling myself it is, but deep in my heart I still fear that there's some more sinister underpinning to it all. Perhaps Our Alien Masters are beaming instructions to drivers, or there is some velocity-based communication passing between drivers. It's the type of unfocused worry that makes me sit bolt upright in bed. Or stop in the middle of traffic.