A short review of driving in Northern California in an economy car


While in Northern California, Tina and I splurged and rented the biggest car they had.

But when we got there, the guy behind the counter down-sold us. “You can save money if you rent a Chevy Spark,” he said with a thick foreign accent.

He finally convinced us that driving the Northern California region would be best suited in a car dwarfed by a Smart Car, or a worm.

So that’s what we did.

It wasn’t bad at all. The car did everything larger cars do, just with less pizzazz as a Maserati or Porsche. Nothing really gains as much respect as when you pull into a 5-star hotel and valet a Chevy Spark, let me tell you.

The rules of the road are just a little different in California. For one: it’s illegal to even HOLD your cell phone. Our friends who live there told me that cops on motorcycles will ride up beside you very quickly and if they see you with your phone in your hand down by your hips, they’ll pull you.

That didn’t stop many Californians from doing it, though. But … as a proponent of not being distracted while driving as seen here by this High Point, NC woman who updated Facebook about the song “Happy” just before crossing the median and dying in a head-on collision and becoming very Unhappy, it’s a good idea to put the phones down until later. At least for your friends and family who love that you love a popular song.

Another rule that the rest of the world doesn’t have to worry about is turning your wheels while parked on a graded street. I remember, you remember, they remember that rule from drivers ed … from 20 to 30 years ago. If you park on a hill, you turn your wheels toward the curb.

I learned that lesson after parking in Chinatown for two hours and returning to my car with a $58 fine.

One major plus to parking downtown is a paybyphone app on your smartphone. For a small surcharge, you can pay your meter using an app and if your lunch is going long, you can add time from your booth.

The one other advantage to driving the Chevy Spark was that we had to navigate steep inclines on treacherous dirt roads to get access to one cabin we stayed in for two days. While other people would drive four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles, we took this dandy up and down those hills. One time, it was in a good bit of rain and mud.

While it’s bad for your wife’s nerves, it’s great for an adrenaline rush.

So that’s my review of driving in NoCal. Get the smallest car possible. Stay in the most remote places only accessible by dirt road. Pay your parking by phone. Don’t turn your wheels when parked on a hill if you want a ticket.

Oh, and you should prepay to cross the Golden Gate bridge. That’s one lie the people at the car rental places are telling the truth.
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