Imagine you’re in line at the grocery store, your cart brimming with the latest in finely cured luncheon meats, the unhealthiest of salty snacks, canned delicacies labeled as seafaring chicken, noodles of every shape and size, and at least seven hundred dollars worth of foodstuff that will hopefully feed your family of three for a week. You look at your watch and realize you’ve got fifteen minutes before you have to retrieve your daughter from her Origami on Horseback class at Chastain Park. The rather talkative woman ahead of you, dressed in a blue polyester pantsuit and high-top sneakers, has lost her coupon for gourmet cat food. The clock is ticking loudly against your eardrum. Next year, your daughter will be restricted to bridge classes from the next door neighbor.
Suddenly, a creature with enough back hair to blow dry approaches from the left. He wedges his cart between your Sun Chips and your neighbor’s Converse.
“Excuse me,” you cry over the sound of detergent hitting the floor. “You’re cutting in line.”
“I’m in a hurry,” he explains.
All you can do is stare at the long dark strands flowing from his earlobes and seeth.
No one would ever do that, right? Decorum dictates that you take your rightful place in line, no matter the hurry.
Every day, I watch drivers, masked by their tinted windows, as they put courtesy in the backseat. Long lines don’t apply to them. They rush past the cue on I-285 as commuters wait to transition onto Georgia 400. With a blinker and a wave, they fold themselves into a gap the size of skinny jeans. Those who obey the rules register their complaint with a slam of the brakes and a honk of the horn. The next day, they think, “why not me?”
Impatience seems to beget a sense of entitlement. I see drivers zip around congestion by using the emergency lane. They know they don’t belong there. Somehow, their dinner is going to get colder faster than ours.
I see drivers doggedly determined to protect their rectangle of asphalt. Many times, I’ve signaled the need to move over a lane so I can safely make my exit. My efforts are greeted by drivers pretending to read a Cracker Barrel billboard. All they need to do is relinquish about fifteen feet. It will add less than a second to their trip. Instead, they spend that second extending a virtual middle finger.
Not all Atlanta drivers are rude. In fact, I would say the majority are willing to give an inch to make your commute better. It’s the presumptuous minority that can ruin your ride. It’s more than a lack of manners. It’s dangerous. There’s no telling how many fender benders have been caused by those aggressive line cutters. I’ve seen them block two lanes of dark rush hour traffic on I-285 rather than wait their turn in the Georgia 400 exit lane. In a situation like that, it’s real easy for metal to intertwine.
We all have places to go. We all want to get there quickly. Frankly, my desire to get home is no more important than your son’s little league game. As badly as I want to take my place on the couch, there is no way to construe my evening commute as an emergency. If you have to wait it out on Georgia 400, so do I. That guy over there flying by us in the lane reserved for ambulances and police officers has no special privilege. He just thinks he does.
It can cause tremendous stress. I don’t need stress. I’ve become that sap who let’s the churlish line cutter move right in front of me. I let him have his way. The alternative is to kiss the bumper in front of me so he doesn’t have a chance. Then, he’s stuck blocking a lane of travel. Others get mad. It leads to road rage. No, I smile. I give them my fifteen feet of blacktop, and delay my trip by a second. I know. It just encourages him to cut the line tomorrow. So be it. Maybe if I’m polite to him, he’ll give someone a car length tomorrow. Maybe. I doubt it, but maybe.
We live in Atlanta. Sweet tea. Southern gentility. Face to face, we’re as warm as a fresh dozen from Krispy Kreme. When we can hide behind the wheel, we become quite selfish. We should all drive like everyone on the road knows exactly who we are, like we’re going to be held accountable for our behavior.
Treat the other drivers like they’re all your grandma.
You wouldn’t cut grandma in the grocery line.