Saturday, March 3, 2007

Keep your mind on your driving and your hands on the wheel

I was barreling north on the 4-lane street a few weeks ago when I realized ALL the other cars were in the left lane because there was construction ahead and that was the only through lane. My lane could only turn right. Sigh. I hate when that happens.

So I turned right. Traffic was heavy, so it took 10-15 minutes to get back to the 4-lane street again. I thankfully pulled into the left lane that I knew was going to be stop and go traffic but also take me where I wanted to go.

A large SUV was angled across the right lane, looking for a break in traffic. The driver had made the same mistake as I did. My solution had been to handle it myself and go around the block. Hers was--someone had to let her in. I visualized her getting ahead of me and sailing through the traffic light ahead while I got caught for another cycle. I had been so patient and civilized getting to this point, I applauded myself. No private cussing. I had been polite with other traffic.

I, who always leave 3-4 feet between my car and the rear bumper of the car ahead, rolled slowly forward. The driver had been eyeing that gap hopefully. She made direct eye contact. She made a helpless gesture to indicate her position. I nodded. I understood. So, she mimed, will you let me in? I looked at her directly for a couple of seconds a slowly shook my head. She disengaged eye contact before I could mime the alternative action I had taken. She didn't express any anger, which I admired. The car behind me closed ranks, too. The light ahead changed and traffic began to move. Sure enough, the light turned yellow when I was halfway through the intersection. The car following so closely behind got through, too. Last I saw, the lady in the SUV was still waiting for a break in traffic.

I've thought about that a lot since.

It is uncharacteristic for me not to let a car in. I've been so grateful to others who have done the same for me. It somehow seems like good manners, which make civilization run more efficiently. Traffic flows much more smoothly when motorists are polite at merges. I didn't have anywhere I had to be that day. All I had was the residual frustration of having to redo that intersection and the time it took.

I wanted to say(whine), "Look lady, you don't understand. I've already made the same mistake. Let someone else help you." And my inner cynic suspicioned she assumed she had privilege and would get in because she was in a big SUV. It wasn't a fancy shiny one, though, and she was so nice. "I went around the block. So can you." Well, isn't that snooty higher ground?

I guess I want a SECOND redo of that intersection, and this time I let her in. But I'm not sure. I still would have been highly irritated if my pessimistic vision had come through and I had been stuck at the next light for my momentary kindness. I really thought I was a better person than that.

A local radio station has the "Flip Off" at noon where disgruntled citizens can take issue with anything from the federal government down to fast food places that get your order wrong. About a third to half of the flip-offs deal with traffic peeves. Some of those deal with legal violations, but a number deal with rude or reckless or simply bad driving. Obviously, what goes on in traffic in a metropolitan area impacts quality of life.

I am a great fan of Acts of Random Kindness. I've received a number and try to pass them on. One of the most memorable was many years ago. I was speeding (rather significantly) down the highway when I began overtaking two cars in the right lane that were going the legal speed limit. The second car pulled into my lane, drew even with the other car, and continued forward at the legal speed. I couldn't get by, I couldn't speed. I had some choice things to say to the driver as I followed in their wake. I was late! I was late! Let me by!

About two miles down the road, we passed a highway patrol officer working radar and just looking for a speeder like me. We went past and over a hill, and the car in front of me returned to the right lane. As I went by, the driver tapped the radar buster on his dash, and I waved thank you. I didn't speed quite so fast the rest of the way, and I was absolutely stunned. Wow. what an ARK.

I still am grateful to that anonymous driver years later. The woman in the SUV may be grateful to someone, but it isn't me. After ruminating and rationalizing to myself, I have to say: I regret that.


HollyB said...

Yoo know I hate it when people Deliberately wait until the very last minute to get over in the correct lane on the highway. When there have been signs posted and all the other cars have been getting over and thus having to slow down. But the people in a hurry, the ones who can't be botherd, to get in the proper lane, and slow down, THOSE folks I NEVER let in, the ones who want to squeeze in at the last possible minute. But, an honest mistake, like yours obviously was, and possibly the SUV driver's was, those kinds of drivers deserve a "let-in". Your second thought just shows your consciense is workin'. Now enough with the beatin' up on you.

Matt G said...


If you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

phlegmfatale said...

You write beautifully, by the way. No wonder you are on Holly's blog roll. :)

I have faced that moral dilemma of courtesy in traffic, and like you, many's the time I've sucked it up and gone the long way 'round to get where I need to go without inconveniencing other drivers who did the time and waited in the long line. Obviously, many people in our society are opportunists who rush ahead in the empty, closing lane so they can horn in at the front of the line ahead of people who've been waiting a long time, in many instances. Don't worry - someone DID let that lady over, and I don't think you did anything wrong. You sound like a pretty patient person, and no doubt you'll have other similar occasions in future in which to make a different choice. Don't be so hard on yourself.

DW said...

You think enough of others to doubt your self. No one is right all the time.

Your writeing paints a familiar picture, would you mind if I link to your site?