…Or, things I start writing in my head when I have to spend a lot of the time on the road in my home state. Some of these are less local and more universal than others.
1. The driver who seems like they might be drunk, is drunk.
Seriously. It’s damn near the official state participant sport. If a driver is weaving, constantly varies speeds for no apparent reason, and generally seems… off… treat them like they have a twenty-foot force field all around them. Even if that means you get home slower.
2. The beater car has the right of way, at all times.
If you see a car that looks like it has been assembled from the corpses of other cars, you immediately know two things: the driver has no fear, and the driver does not give a shit about his or her car. If you break this unwritten law, the next time the beater car is seen it may be wearing your car’s fender as a trophy.
3. Stringently obey all traffic laws on Indian reservations, and in pleasant-looking little small towns.
In the former case, speeders and reckless drivers are major revenue generators. In the latter, the answer to the petulant driver’s bleat to the ticketing police officers of “Don’t you have anything better to do?!” is an entirely honest “No, I do not.” In either case both communities have more reasons to care about outsiders rocketing through their turf than the state bears or the police forces of bigger cities do. In general, New Mexico is a very bad place to be an impatient driver.
4. The pickup truck with all the tools in the back probably knows more about the road you’re on than you do.
Odds are, the dude in the very well-used looking pickup with the heavy-duty modifications and enough hardware in the back for an Army Corps of Engineers unit has been all over the state and back again, possibly within the last week. If he slows down for no readily apparent reason, he might know more than you do about good reasons to in that particular area, time of day, or weather condition.
5. Washes and arroyos are not merely picturesque local color.
If it’s raining heavily, do not EVER challenge the wash, even if the running water looks shallow. Be aware of the contours of the land around you and retain awareness that, in a rocky, dry area, the lowest points where any liquid will end up. In summer, they are flash flood zones. In winter, they are where the black ice will be. The black ice is not just a good name for a metal band, it’s a good way to send your vehicle skating merrily across several lanes of traffic or into the side of a mountain.
6. If traffic is slow and you are feeling cranky and impatient, so is everyone else.
This isn’t really local and more sound advice for driving in general, but the locals aren’t always the most cautious. When driving in downtown Albuquerque and Santa Fe in particular, be aware that stop signs are treated by some as suggestions and sometimes the only way to get into a major artery at rush hour from a side street is the suicidal dive. Be sure your brakes are good and your attention isn’t wandering.
7. The more bumper stickers on the vehicle, of any sentiment, the more impulsive and dangerous the driver.
The scariest vehicle I have ever seen anywhere was the one in Albuquerque that was completely papered over with bumper stickers from the front doors back. Including the entire back window. The driver acted exactly as you’d expect someone who felt more need to display their opinions than to see out their back window would.
8. The locals are fine with it, and whether you are or not is not relevant.
Crawling speeds and inexplicable chicanes and roundabouts in Los Alamos? Adjust. Thirteen people in a barely roadworthy sedan on the highway north? Normal traffic and minor road hazard. Motorists in Santa Fe who are obeying traffic laws from other dimensions? Standard. Roads in small towns that are treated as universal mixed traffic for pedestrians, cars, bicycles, horses, dogs, and wild animals? Also normal. If you do not attempt to adapt, you will come to a bad end sooner than they will.
9. There is a nowhere, and it is possible to reach the middle.
There are places, lots of them, where there is no such thing as cell service or GPS signal*, and there are no good roads or outposts of civilization. Unless you know the area very, very well, do not fuck around with them. The concept of “here there be dragons” in mapmaking could stand to make a comeback.
10. Just because the manufacturer asserts a vehicle is “off-road” capable, does not mean it is.
It’s entirely possible they mean the vehicle can traverse a grassy plain without bursting into flames or breaking an axle, not that the vehicle can do anything else without the assistance of pavement. Your rear wheel drive only, automatic transmission conveyance that happens to be pickup shaped is not going anywhere once snow, ice, mud, and gravity join forces.
*Or places where you can get signal, but it won’t do you any actual benefit aside from affirming that you are, in fact, fucked.