Sunday, April 09, 2006

Have van, will travel ineffectively

Once in a while I will suck it up and drive to work. Normally I just suck it up and leave the house by 7:45am to walk to the train, get on it, get off it, walk some more, and get to work by 9am. But on the days that I suck it up and drive, I can leave the house around 8:15 and have a pretty good chance at getting to work a few minutes before 9.

Driving to work takes less time than going by train, but it's (a) more expensive, with the price of gas these days; and (b) so much more aggravating. The only way to get theah from heah is to go through the Caldecott Tunnel. Which, if one is driving away from San Francisco in the morning and towards San Francisco in the evening, isn't nearly as bad as the other way around. But it still sucks, because within the space of about half a mile, four lanes and an entrance ramp must suddenly become two lanes and no entrance ramp.

No, let me rephrase that. Over the distance of about half a mile, four lanes and an entrance ramp filled with impatient, me-first Bay Area drivers with their cell phones glued to their ears must suddenly figure out how to use their turn signals and merge in a polite fashion and somehow wind up with two lanes of completely intact cars. During commute time, this can take anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes in the direction I head. And, as noted above, this is the less trafficked direction.

On Thursday I drove to work because I couldn't get my butt out of bed on time, my wife and I couldn't get our butts out the door in time to get mine on the train, and I really needed my butt to be in a meeting by 9am. The drive in was actually quite smooth. But on the way home, there was apparently a horrendous accident on the interstate, several miles after my exit, and I traveled maybe 3 miles in 20 minutes. Although things were megatons better once I got off the interstate, I was not a very happy camper. I was rather irritated, and I had to pee.

So I came upon the tunnel and its snarl of cars all trying to be in the same place (i.e., first) at once. My strategy for the tunnel merge is to let anyone in front of me as long as they (a) use their turn signal and (b) haven't already tried to cut someone off. This often pisses off the person behind me, but I think I'm modeling good behavior, you know? Around here, getting ahead by a single car length seems to be cause for orgasm; and there are much better methods, yo.

I'd already let a few cars in front of me when I noticed a beat-up turquoise van three cars in front of me. We were at the point in the merge where the signs no longer read 2 LEFT LANES CLOSED 1/2 MILE AHEAD or 2 LEFT LANES CLOSED 1/4 MILE AHEAD, but rather 2 LEFT LANES CLOSED MERGE RIGHT. Our lane wasn't going anywhere. But the driver of this van was. He zipped over to the far left lane, where there was practically no traffic because the lane was ending in about 500 feet. He zipped along, periodically slamming on his brakes to avoid rear-ending those trying to merge. His passenger evidently thought this was great fun, for he was laughing hysterically and gesticulating wildly with a half-full Dr Pepper bottle (presumably containing Dr Pepper, but one can't be sure).

I let maybe 5 or 6 more people in front of me as the far left lane ended, the turquoise van cut someone off at the last minute, and the second lane began to disappear. When the second lane ended, I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw none other than the turquoise van right behind me. Among the two people initially behind the van and me, we must have let at least 10 people in front of us while the turquoise van was partying it up in the not-so-fast lane. One step forward? At least thirteen steps back.

Schadenfreude or no, I couldn't help but start to feel better about that day's commute. And I think California needs a new class of moving violations:

Driving While Stupid.

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