Driving is one of those rare activities in our society where collective participation, communal cooperation and individual judgment and ability all come together in ways that usually work well – but often leave us scratching our heads wondering just what in the hell is going on with the people we’re forced to share the roads with.
It’s a bit like team sports – only you’ve got a bunch of strangers on your “team” and you have no way of knowing what they’ll do at any given moment.
Professional drivers see more than their fair share of stupidity on the road (there’s no other word for it). And I’m sure most of you could write volumes about the stuff you’ve seen. But let me share an episode I saw this morning.
The main road in front of my subdivision used to be a quiet two-lane country road. Today, thanks to urban sprawl, twice a day during rush hour it’s a clogged, congested, crowded city road with way more traffic than it was ever built to handle.
I’m lucky: When I come up to the intersection with this road in the morning, I make a right turn to get to the office. I don’t have to fool with traffic coming from the right at all.
This morning, as I pulled up to the stop sign, there were three cars in front of me, all with their left-hand turn signals on.
Great, I thought. I’m stuck here while they wait for a break in both lanes.
At about this point, Miss Super Samaritan came cruising up from the left in her red Chevy Malibu. She takes stock of the situation at this intersection and decides that she’s going to help out.
So she comes to a full and complete stop in the middle of the road and begins waving at the cars in front of me, basically saying, Hi! I’m Miss Super Samaritan and I’ m here to help! Pull on out in the road and get on your way this fine morning!
Well, for starters, there was – at that moment – no traffic behind her. None whatsoever. And – as I’ve already noted – if you’re crossing a lane to turn onto a road, the traffic coming from the left is the least of your worries. Catching a break from traffic coming from the right is the bigger issue.
So really, Miss Super Samaritan could have just continued on her merry way down the road – like she’s supposed to – and it would not have hurt, or helped, the cars in front of me in the slightest one way or the other. In fact, as future events are about to show, it would have been far more helpful if she’d merely just gone on her way and let them deal with the traffic situation.
As it happened, the cars in front of me realized how ridiculous this situation was as well. So now they all start waving back at Miss Super Samaritan, saying, basically, Hey! Thanks! But we’ve got this! And you’re unnecessarily complicating what is already a stressful and intense situation! So – while we appreciate it – please continue on down the road and have a nice day!
But no. Miss Super Samaritan wasn’t’ having any of that. She started waving back even harder, signaling: Don’t be silly! I’m here to help! It’s no bother at all! Just pull on out in the road and get on with your day – and we can all bask in the glow of what a wonderful, thoughtful and helpful person I am!
The stupidity of all this was highlighted by that fact that there were still no cars behind her, while a seemingly endless line of traffic continued to whoosh by coming from the right. The cars in front of me were stuck, no matter how much waving Miss Super Samaritan did.
But all that was about to change: Because now, from behind Miss Super Samaritan, came a line of fast-moving traffic, rushing up the hill and around the curve she was blocking only to confront a car stopped dead in the middle of the road and a bunch of people all sitting there waving at each other like idiots.
From my vantage point farther back, I watched with my jaw in my lap as the drivers in this on-coming line stood on their brakes, nosed the front ends of their cars over and tried desperately to keep from running into one another, going out in the oncoming lane or smashing into the back end of Miss Super Samaritan – who was still sitting there blithely, waving at the cars in front of me saying, Don’t be shy! Come on out! I’m here to help! Really!
It was a close, close call. But nobody hit anybody else – although I’ll bet there was a lot of spilled coffee and jangled nerves amongst the new drivers who’d just joined the party.
Amazingly, Miss Super Samaritan was not deterred by the line of about six cars filled with totally pissed-off drivers that had just appeared out of nowhere behind her. She insisted on sitting there until two of the cars in front of me finally managed to pull out onto the road. The third car couldn’t make it. But then, even Miss Super Samaritan realized she couldn’t hold back the dam any longer. She gave the third guy a wave that said, I’m sorry! I did the best I could! But I’ve got to go now!
And finally – mercifully – she went on her way down the road while the rest of us mopped our brows and breathed a sigh of relief.
Now, I’m all for helping people out. We all need to do to so whenever we can – and we probably all ought to do it more often than we do now. But as Mr. Spock once said on Star Trek, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
I’m sure Miss Super Samaritan went on about her day with an imaginary halo glowing around her head, patting herself on the back and reveling in how great and wonderful a person she is.
And there’s no doubt she had good intentions.
But she created a far bigger mess than any good she did. In fact, you could argue she did no good at all: In any event, she “helped” two drivers out.
But in doing so, she came perilously close to causing a multi-car pileup that would have involved at least six vehicles. Injuries would’ve been a given. Deaths? Maybe. Damaged cars? A major road shut down for a couple of hours while the authorities tried to sort out and clean up the mess? The mind boggles at the sheer scale of the misery, chaos, disruption and frustration she almost caused this morning.
The morale of the story: By all means, help people out if you can. But make sure you’re not putting others at risk or creating a bigger problem by doing so.