The distance between cars decreases whenever this former Bellmore resident returns...

The distance between cars decreases whenever this former Bellmore resident returns to Long Island. Above, congestion on the LIE. Credit: NEWSDAY/David L. Pokress

I’m in my car waiting to exit a parking lot. Two cars are before me, the first one attempting to make a left on a busy street without a traffic light, and three cars are behind me. It’s been two minutes. No one has blown a horn. I’m not in New York now, but I am a New Yorker and anticipate honking and hand gestures.

Silence.

The first car finally turns, but the car in front of me still has its left signal flashing. After another stretch of nerve-racking silence, the car turns and I’m first in line. But I abandon all thoughts of turning left and make a quick right (though I needed to go left), worried that those behind me are already furious after waiting so long.

It’s been more than two years since I left Long Island, but Long Island hasn’t left me. Though I’ve learned not to honk, now that I’m living in a slower-paced beach community surrounded by farmland in southern Delaware, I still expect other drivers to be seething with impatience at the slightest pause in forward motion. Born and raised in Queens, I’m hard-wired to rush and accustomed to motorists' intolerance. When I moved to Bellmore, I was primed for Long Island’s notorious traffic. I spent 30 years living on the South Shore, navigating the suburban sprawl on parkways and expressways, darting down backstreets to beat the lights and escape Sunrise Highway congestion.

My husband, Billy, who lived on Long Island the first 65 years of his life, still has his New York sensibilities behind the wheel, too. Though he’s a responsible driver with a stellar record, his intolerance speaks volumes about his roots.

“C’mon! Whaddya’ doing?” is a typical outburst when the light turns green and the car in front doesn’t accelerate immediately.

Delawareans are different. They seldom honk. And if there’s a lane closure, they’ll rarely race ahead to cut in line (as some with Empire State plates are known to do).

Billy and I make the Delaware-Long Island trip often. On the road, we inevitably notice bumper stickers (“Don’t Drink and Park – Accidents Cause People,” “Watch out for the idiot behind me”) and license plates.

“Wow, he’s a long way from home,” Billy says, pointing to an Alaska plate.

I wonder if driving in the Last Frontier with snowstorms, moose encounters and bear sightings is as daunting as rush hour on the Long Island Expressway. ?

Sometimes I feel like we’re misrepresenting ourselves, hiding behind demure Delaware plates. Just past the George Washington Bridge tollbooths, an 18-wheeler lets us in when our left lane ends abruptly. Perhaps the trucker has taken pity on our out-of-state plate. Little does he know we have over a century of New York driving between us. We know howta’ merge!

Though I've become acclimated to my Delaware surroundings, I still consider myself a New York driver -- rated some of the safest in the country, No. 3 among the 50 states in a 2021 SafeWise survey. While I’m proud of New Yorkers’ safety record, I’m more reserved and less expressive than some.

Nearing New York, horn honking increases, the distance between cars decreases and rear bumper protectors are commonly observed, as if vehicles escaped the Coney Island bumper car ride. 

During a recent trip, we were at a standstill on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. An incident triggered one driver to exit his vehicle – shirtless – and with a silent snarling bravado, flipped the other driver the bird.

Reader Paula Ganzi McGloin now lives in Millsboro, Delaware.