Friday, August 26, 2005

Slowly Croaking with the Soviet Frogs

During the dark, pre-glasnost days of the Soviet Union, we were regularly served evidence of its breakdown through images of sluggish citizens standing in long lines awaiting their ration of government-made toilet paper. How, we wondered, could they tolerate this? Why didn't they throw off their shackles and join the free nations of the world, where we wait in line only after picking up our bread and Charmin?

Yesterday, I visited a similar strange and foreign land.

A long meeting across the city dumped me into rush hour traffic. Leaving from an unaccustomed place, I chose a route I soon regretted, and found myself creeping (no, much slower than that) along as I merged from a trunk highway to the so-called interstate at its most concentrated.

To accept traffic fed from another busy artery, the long feeder road started as two lanes, but clearly merged into a single lane. The drivers recognized the futility of trying to gain any advantage by racing up to where the road narrowed, and we queued up one-by-one (cars, as well as people) like good comrades. A huge waste of human and fossil energy as we idled, but there was nothing to be done but wait your turn.

In the mirror, an SUV cruised down the merge lane, past all the cars that had accepted their position in the great order of things. A gratuitous move, because the futility continued far ahead. Progress faster than the masses would be difficult — even for an aggressive driver with a shoulder-high chrome bumper.

A van several cars back pulled out just far enough to block the SUV driver's path, and we proceeded that way for some time. But the ramp opened to a grassy median where it was clear the SUV could zip around, grabbing the last receding yards of the merge zone to pass half a dozen cars before the margin closed totally. The van driver conceded a foot and the SUV accelerated, reaching a gap left by a semi-trailer.

To daily commuters, this is a familiar and grating scene many places in the city. To this inner-ring-dwelling, frequent bicycle commuter, it was a visit to a now-exotic land as I joined the thousands of shuffling freemen and women.

One frog tries to escape, clambering over the heads of the others, but we all slowly boil together in this concrete pot, heated by a fire of our own making.

At least the Muscovites didn't have to wait for their toilet paper twice a day, five days a week.


Anonymous zedsix said...

Since when did we abandon "slower traffic, move right"?

7:48 PM  
Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

That presumes slower traffic blocking an open left lane, and so far I'm with you. But there was no open or moving lane, just a dwindling merge lane designed to let two lanes traveling at speed to become one. It had long since dwindled to 1.5 before Mr. SUV showed.

My point was about the the total futility of our damn-the-consequences, me-first mindset, not so much traffic rules.

I wouldn't want to be caught between that dude and a lifeboat, either.

7:08 AM  

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