Today I was driving around south-east Baltimore along some busy-ish highway (695?) (97?) when the two lanes of traffic I was in went down to one due to construction. The signs said that the right lane was closed in 1/2 mile, merge left. I was already in the left lane, so in good shape. As other drivers heeded the warning and worked their way left, the left lane became more crowded and slower. The right lane emptier, and therefore quicker.
I’m a “let’s all get along” kinda person, so I stay in the left lane, but every now and again, I see someone who has made the other choice, and that gets me riled up. The reason the left lane is slower (besides simply being denser traffic) is that where the actual cones start to block the right lane, people finally MUST merge so they push their way into the left lane. Obviously, this slows down everyone in the left lane who must pause to let these late-comers in. I think it is rude to rush ahead for your own gain if it slows everyone else down.
There is a solution, of sorts. Don’t let people in who behave that way. If all of us cooperative types agreed to punish the me-firsts, then it would no longer pay to be a me-first because even if you raced ahead in the closing lane making time relative to everyone else, you’d lose it not being able to get back into the flow. Alas, many of us are also nice. “We’re here at the convergence, we all need to get to the other side, the person in the big SUV is pushing their way in, might as well let him go.”
I decided to be cooperative, but not nice. Anyone who wanted into the left lane while there was free road ahead of them on the right was welcomed in before me. But, when I got to the convergence, I stayed tight on the tail of the car in front of me, not letting in any of the me-firsts. This behavior pissed off a me-first in a big SUV who felt like it was his turn since the progression into the single lane had been left-right-left up to that point, so he started merging in, coming ever closer to me. Most people with a healthy regard for their safety and a preference for a non-damaged vehicle would simply have backed off and let me-first in. But I’d made a decision. I’d teach me-first a lesson. He couldn’t slow all the rest of us down with impunity.
I’m sad to report that he didn’t see the error of his ways and repent. The driver of the car behind me must have had a healthy regard for his safety or a preference for a non-damaged vehicle. He let me-first in.
After we cleared the construction, and got back up to speed, I got over into the right lane. As the signs on the PA Turnpike say: “Drive Right, Pass Left. It’s the law!” Me-first takes this as an opportunity to pass me. As soon as he’s past me, he gets into my lane in front of me and brakes sharply. Not enough so that I’d actually hit him. Though since his car is newer and more expensive, and he did just pass me, the thought at least passes through my mind that maybe I should go ahead and hit him. But I don’t. I break. I downshift. And, at the next exit, he roars off and we never cross paths again.
I’m quite sure that he was teaching me a lesson to “be nice” at convergences where two lanes have to come together. Take turns and go left-right-left-right. So, each of us comes away from that construction with a feeling of “those damn jerks on the road” and “I’ll teach him a lesson.”
For those familiar with game theory, this is a reasonable map to the prisoner’s dilemma. However, that only works if each party recognizes each interaction. Me-first and I got into a retaliatory punishment cycle, albeit a short one. I think he wronged me first by failing to heed the warning and make his way left. I suspect he thinks I wronged him first by not giving him his “rightful” place in the intermingling of lanes.
One of my therapy struggles has been how to be content and still strive. I think this is related. How to be zen and still bastard enough not to get fucked over.
I know few people read my blog. Especially as I’ve not yet made it known to more than a couple people who might be interested in it, but if you do read this (and make it this far), I’d be curious to know your behavior at merge points. To the extent you can separate your stated from your demonstrated preferences, I’d love to know that too. I’ve clearly stated my preference above. My demonstrated preferences are far from as lilly-white. I’ve been a me-first on occasion too. But at least I have an awareness of what a jerk I’m being 🙂