Don’t be an idiot – merge and let merge

January 12, 2022

John Bendel

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There was a bad accident Sunday on the New Jersey Turnpike. Traffic was backed up through the toll booths at the New Brunswick interchange. I didn’t notice the backup on Waze. I wasn’t checking the screen. By the time I did notice, I was already on my way down the helix, unable to turn around. I was trapped.

Inching through the toll booth onto the southbound ramp, the cars-only lanes were closed. Everyone had to squeeze down to one lane for the ramp to the truck lanes. Things moved an inch at a time.

When I reached the critical point and it was my turn in the alternate merge, the guy in a pickup next to me was about as close to the bumper of the car in front as he could get. We’d wait and wait for the traffic to move just the littlest bit, and when it did – just that little bit – the pickup guy moved forward as though glued to the car in front of him. He wasn’t going to let me in. No way.

I was pissed, of course, and I felt like challenging him – sticking the nose of my car toward that tiny gap and edging as close to his pickup as I could. I had done it before more than a few times.

The guy in the pickup was being a jerk. It had nothing to do with getting anywhere faster. We weren’t in a race. It wasn’t the last lap near the flag at NASCAR. We weren’t two bulls facing off over a harem of cows. Any advantage to be won was insignificant. In the context of wherever we were going, it was less than insignificant. I would probably pass the guy later on down the road. It was competition for its own sake.

Yeah, sometimes you feel totally justified, even heroic, in not yielding.

Maybe a guy comes roaring up the shoulder to get around traffic. Maybe he didn’t merge right away when a sign said the lane was closed up ahead. Maybe he drove past all those who had moved over, right up to the point where the lane actually closed. That drives some people nuts.

In a lifetime of driving, I had frozen others out of line myself. Pure, mindless competition. Testosterone on display. It was truly stupid every single time. It’s something I’ve tried hard to get over. Now I let the next guy in. I can’t help getting angry in certain situations. It never feels good to let a jerk have his way, but it’s smarter than the violent potential of road rage. Jesus would approve, and besides, I’m older now.

At that moment on Sunday, it didn’t feel like there would ever be a break when the pickup shut me out, but there was. In this case, it was the next car.

Sure, it’s easier in a car. People are reluctant to give a semi a break because that will put them behind you, unable to see the road ahead or the traffic signs. But someone always does let you in. I want to be that person.

As I watched the pickup inch past me Sunday, I thought of the many YouTube videos I’ve seen posted by angry drivers – professionals, no less – irate when someone tries to cut in front of them at a merge, especially when it wasn’t their turn. It’s an aggressive jerk trying to squeeze in, and often not at crawling speeds. In the video, you can hear the angry driver denouncing the guy cutting in. Idiot! Moron! Jerk!

What you don’t see is the driver, the hero of the video, braking or simply easing off on the accelerator to let the jerk in. In some videos, there’s a crash. The bad guy finds himself spun around perpendicular to the truck and being pushed sideways down the road.

What a moron! What an idiot! He had it coming!

Maybe so. But I always wonder why a driver would post a video like that. It clearly shows two idiots. One is trying to bully his way into traffic; the other is behind the camera, his foot on the accelerator, not giving an inch.

Looking back, I regret every time I was one of those idiots. LL

WW Williams

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon and two trucking magazines, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many U.S. newspapers.