Tuesday, September 24, 2013

That One Intersection

Every commute has it--that one intersection that frequently/occasionally/sometimes/often gets our blood boiling.  That, if we're not slipping through it with white knuckles wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, head swiveling both directions, breath fearfully rapid and shallow.  One way or another, you've got it.

Granted, every intersection was like that during my winter commutes in Alaska--white knuckled, breathless, and thanking the patron saint of bobsledding every time I made it safely to work.  But that's what a statistician might call an outlying data point.

My new commute here in Memphis has that intersection, despite it being the shortest commute I've suffered in years.  In this case, it's a pretty benign-looking road connection where a two-lane road cuts down through Shelby Farms and meets the four-lane mega-path that roars past one of the larger hospitals and then deep into the heart of Memphis.

It's a simple three-way intersection.  A simple intersection with, it turns out, a propensity for accidents.

I'd wondered why I saw accidents there so frequently.  "Oh, look, another accident" quickly became a weekly or biweekly mantra.  They were always on the same corner of the intersection, too, which was an observation that didn't seem all that important at first since three-way intersections only have two corners.

Ahh, nothing brings the blood pressure up to professional work environment levels like the morning commute, right?  There's always something going wrong.  If you leave at precisely the right moment to arrive on time, you'll hit a few traffic signals wrong and thus arrive a few minutes after the time you were shooting for.  Leave five minutes early and you'll get behind somebody who drives slow enough that you're still a few minutes behind.  Leave fifteen minutes early and you'll get into something else, and yes, you'll still end up a few minutes behind upon arrival.  Leave over an hour early and you'll have the smoothest commute ever, only to arrive at work wondering what the hell you're gonna do for the extra hour that you could've been in your pajamas at home during.

Add to the timing thing the nature of our fellow drivers.  Now, there are some out there who do, in fact, practice good ole' Southern hospitality.  These are the folks who, though waiting in line to pass through a stop sign, will slow down to let someone out of their driveway into the flow of traffic.  They're the angels.  They're also only about 10%, if that much, of the Southern drivers here in Memphis.  No offense to my fellow Memphis-ians, but most folks here will speed up just to keep you from being able to pull out of your supermarket parking spot.  On the road, in a commute?  Fugeddaboudit, y'all.

Back to topic, though: there are several special things about this special little intersection.  One is that just a few hundred yards before it, as I'm headed through the park and to work, there's a merge.  It's the dumbest merge spot ever, if you ask me, and nobody here did.  Some people apparently like their mornings spent with nature and all that crap, so as the two lane road makes a sixty degree (ish) turn, another two-lane road from the park itself cuts in.  There aren't any signs or anything, just a rather large herd of buffalo standing there laughing at us.  The traffic going toward the stoplight moves, as single-lane stoplight traffic often does, in fits and spurts.  The traffic coming the other direction is similar; there'll be nobody using that lane for a long while and then a long string of cars passes by at about 45 mph.

Generally there's one or two health nuts coming from inside the park to merge with the slow flow of regular coffee-guzzling commuters, and so it's always a matter of timing and kinda random decision-making as to whether I'm going to let one in.  This morning there were not one, and not two, but a dozen cars waiting to get in.  Nobody in their right mind is going to let a dozen people in, and if you slow down for just one there's a (kinda likely) chance that three or seven are just plain gonna nose their way in ahead of you.  It's that Southern hospitality thang again.

See what I mean about blood pressure?

So as I was sitting there in an idling car watching the dozen morning park people also idling, I looked toward the light and saw the reason we hadn't moved in a while.  This little red pickup down the way was also idling.  The problem with his movement, or lack of, was that everybody ahead of him had got up and gone.

It was like he was awaiting a special invitation.  From God.


Finally--finally!!!--he pulled one body part out of his other body part and put the truck into gear. Everybody else slowly followed.  You know how traffic starts back up after a stop, right?  Somebody moves, and then the next person eventually moves, and if you're several cars back you can--and just might--eat your steering wheel in the time it takes the "eventually moves" inertia to get back to you.

But finally--yay!--it got to me, and I moved, and the people behind me moved, and the people in front of me accelerated, and we were off like a single-file herd of turtles.  Yippee!  Forward, on to the light!

Now, whoever designed that light messed it up.  The two-lane road that ends there gets a green light for both right and left turns, and that's what we were going on.  Once that green light is done the road's occupants get a red light while one side of the four-lane road gets to make a left onto the two-lane.  That happens for about half a minute before the straight-through and always-full four-lane occupants get to slam their accelerators down to the floor boards.

So this morning we were rumbling toward the stoplight and it turned red.  No biggie; the folks turning right onto the four-lane (which is most of us, since that's toward Memphis) still have about half a minute while people are turning left before the straight-through people get to go.  Instead of stopping or even slowing down, then, we all know to accelerate!

Except one guy.

Who was three cars in front of me.

Screech!  The person two cars ahead of me managed to stop.  The one behind him managed to stop.  I managed to stop.  Everybody behind me managed to stop, believe it or not.

We stopped, and we got hot.

Remember what I said about Southern hospitality and patience?  Nah.  The collective blood pressure of the line went up by at least a thousand.  Horns were blaring.  People were growling like a dog defending its hydrant.  And can you blame us?

How dare some idiot stop at the red light?

And that's why there are frequent accidents at that corner.

I did have a correlation for this topic to writing to make, but I'll be darned if I can remember it.  Any ideas?


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