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It’s nice seeing road rage only in rearview mirror

EAST LANSING, Mich.

There’s an end to every road, and every Road Warrior. For me, the end of my journey is now in sight.

By the time you read this, I’ve been long gone from Las Vegas, having returned to my native Midwest from whence I came.

I’m in a Big Ten college town now, working at a university, helping the future Woodwards and Bernsteins get on their feet so they can find work and someday pay back their student loans.

Meanwhile, I get to reclaim my school holidays.

While a new Road Warrior preps for his debut in one week, I’m scooting around my new hometown. Here, there’s something that this ex-Las Vegan finds unsettling and alien when behind the wheel: People here drive nice.

Seriously. If two cars get to a four-way stop simultaneously, the other driver will politely wave at you and allow you to go first. (You might even get into a waving war as each insists the other go first!)

At crosswalks, drivers stop to allow pedestrians to safely cross the street, without threat of prosecution to prompt the yield.

Drivers make eye contact and telegraph their intentions, either with a glance, a (polite) gesture or a brake tap. Just because.

I can’t think of the last time I saw shards of auto glass littering an intersection.

People use turn signals!

A few days back, a car stopped to allow another driver to back out of a driveway. Other drivers dutifully stopped in queue and didn’t even honk once.

I’m more concerned about facing ‘roid rage than road rage.

Most everybody makes it to work or play safe and sound, with any one-minute delay quickly forgotten.

Still, despite the kind new world in which I find myself, I feel an echo of Las Vegas racing through my reflexes every time I get behind the wheel.

Passing through an intersection with a green light, my head still swivels left and right — even when I’m crossing a one-way street! — even though people don’t seem to blow through red lights here.

When stopped at a red light or slowing for a yellow, I’m still peering at my rearview mirror, in case somebody comes up on my car too quickly and threatens a rear-end collision.

I continue to hide my car stereo’s faceplate, lock the steering wheel with a steel bar and hide my belongings in the trunk, even though the chances of a break-in or theft seem remote (I can’t find any piles of smashed auto glass in any parking lots, either).

And I keep expecting to see a middle finger pointing my way through an opposing windshield.

But none of that is necessary. People here drive nice. I’m suffering from a sort of Post-Traumatic Sorry-I’d-been-driving-in-Vegas Disorder, I guess.

You may say it’s easy to be nice in a smaller town, without the hustle and hustlers of Las Vegas. True, to a point. But not completely valid.

Yes, my new town is smaller than Las Vegas. But every fall, the population multiplies faster than even Sin City’s torrid pace. Streets are often quiet, but not when classes are letting out. Certainly not on dorm move-in day.

Parking is never easy to find, though roving bands of bicyclists and headphone-immersed walkers are in everyone’s path.

And while Las Vegans have to face road work virtually year-round, out here we get a year’s worth of work packed between the end of the spring semester and the start of fall. You know, the only time of year people here are getting out and about after a cruel winter.

Still, drivers stay nice.

Maybe that’s why driving here is just driving, not a death wish. Maybe that’s why car wrecks are no longer a daily sight in my life. Maybe that’s why my monthly car insurance premium dropped by around 35 percent (even though I switched to one of those high-end companies!).

Maybe there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about Las Vegas byways. Maybe it’s mostly in the attitude. And maybe valley streets can become just a way to get around town, and not a bet on your life.

Try to be nice, folks. What comes around goes around.

Omar Sofradzija had been the Road Warrior columnist since 2003. He is now the editorial adviser to The State News at Michigan State University.

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