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Californians Can’t Turn Left Like We Can

July 8th, 2019 by dk

A good friend of mine drove up from the San Francisco area this week. Ehab’s perceptions of Eugene surprised and refreshed me. I hope my retelling gives you some of the same feelings.

He drove overnight to get here because he wanted to avoid any traffic stress. Although he spent a year as an Uber driver, he’s now finding it harder to tolerate the perpetual gridlock he endures in California.

We ran to the grocery store shortly after he arrived, which is something I do probably every other day. But Ehab looked surprised as we turned into the parking lot. “Do you know how long it’s been since I turned left across multiple traffic lanes during the day without a traffic light with a left-turn arrow?”

For just a moment, I felt like I had super powers. I had done with no difficulty what many Californians can barely remember doing. We complain that those left turns are harder than they used to be, but we often overlook that they are still usually possible here. And that others who live only a few hundred miles away can’t drive with the same ease.

Ehab was amazed that I never used a GPS device to get around town. He has grown accustomed to using mapping software constantly, even when he doesn’t need directions. He relies on an app to reroute him away from heavy traffic.

Ehab may be paying a larger price than he realizes for that computer convenience. Brain scientists are just beginning to express concern. We use spatial reasoning to make decisions all the time, but we’re just beginning to understand how important those natural skills are.

Neuroscientists believe spatial-memory strategies for navigation also give us the ability to imagine our future selves.

Our brain’s hippocampus area makes a mental map of an area, to keep us from getting lost. But now we’re learning that the same part of the brain also helps us make choices that reach our aspirations. Those choices literally move us from who we are today to who we want to become tomorrow. We outsource those reasoning muscles at our peril.

One of our errands took him to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. In and out in 20 minutes. Ehab was astonished. “The same task in California would require getting an appointment, probably a month in advance. And then it would still take half the day. Your DMV is so easy! Shopping for groceries in California isn’t as easy as registering a vehicle in Oregon.”

Before his quick visit ended, Ehab wanted to get to Costco, which is the most crowded place I know in Eugene. Maybe he was homesick. The parking lot was full, as it always is, but the drivers were not surly or overly stressed. I never think about shopping when I’m traveling, but loading his truck with postponed purchases made good sense.

Ehab loved not paying a sales tax. His reasoning was sound. “Everything here is 10 percent off!” If we wanted more visitors from California and Washington, we might consider putting that phrase on our license plates.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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