I ran into this graphic on Facebook and immediately identified with it… as one of the cars in the right lane, I should add, not as the line cutter, whom I will dub “That Guy.”
I began to cogitate about my drive home from work. I often end up driving down 23rd Street in Santa Monica, between Ocean Park and Rose Avenue. At rush hour, this downhill street becomes a treacly dribble of cars that drips down 23rd at the rate sap oozes down a tree trunk.
There are very few other routes from certain parts of Santa Monica to certain parts of Los Angeles, and what other choices there are involve going well out of your way through traffic that isn’t much better.
However, you can go over to 21st Street which has far, far less traffic and try to cut onto 23rd from nine different side streets. After that, you have no alternative but to sidle over to 23rd because you run into the golf course where Harrison Ford’s plane crashed. (BTW, if Harrison Ford’s plane has crashed on the golf course at rush hour, you ain’t goin’ nowhere, Bub!)
So anyway, driving down 23rd–using the term “driving” loosely as it’s more like “sinking slowly”–you’ll encounter cars on nine side streets trying to cut in. The lines on the side streets get longer the further you travel down the hill, of course. Why be That Guy just to save a block or two? By the time you reach the bottom of the hill, the line to cut onto 23rd is almost as long as the line on 23rd itself, which also doesn’t help much. So the savvy line cutter chooses his or her own sweet spot somewhere in between.
But here’s the funny thing: People on 23rd treat these side street line cutters as if they had some legitimate right to merge. They stop and let them in!
I know that the media are always happy to promote stories about L.A. road rage that make the rest of the world think we’re all bat-wielding psychopaths, but the fact is that, even at the end of the day when we’re stressed to the max and want nothing more than to sink into a lounge chair with an adult beverage, we summon the empathy to take pity on the That Guys of the world. It’s hard to be That Guy, always pushing, always looking for the shortcut even when it means cashing in your karma chips.
We know how hard it is because, now and again, we are That Guy. We’re running late. We get caught short. Maybe we just stopped caring, somewhere around 3:00 p.m., what the rest of the world thinks of us. Maybe in the eternal arm wrestle between Optimism and Cynicism, Cynicism has momentarily gotten the upper hand. Whatever. We’ve all been That Guy at some point in our lives.
What’s more, the cars that have been let in are almost certain to let other cars in ahead of themselves! That Guys become Good Guys by letting other That Guys cut in ahead of them! The change is instantaneous.
There is only one thing I would suggest to the That Guys who are allowed to merge onto 23rd Street: Wave. Just raise your right hand and give a little wave of appreciation to the Good Guy who let you in.
It’s little enough to ask and it’ll make you feel good. Try it!