The Democratic Principle of Merging
Even on the perpetually jammed Schuylkill Expressway at rush hour, you can learn something about compromise. I was at the iconic “bottleneck” just past Lincoln Drive one morning, when I saw a merge situation up ahead, knowing that my lane and traffic coming onto the expressway in another lane were to become one. So I found my niche, letting one car go ahead of me and then nestling in that lane, fully expecting that the next car entering the road would see how I had deferred and would follow suite. It didn’t. The driver tried to squeeze ahead of me. Didn’t she understand the dynamics of merging, I thought? Did she understand that it was the essence of compromise: You restrain your inclination to speed up, as if getting ahead of one car would somehow get you to where you’re going faster? Shouldn’t she realize that the car she is trying to upstage had, in a gracious act, allowed the car before her in her lane to go? It is a smooth process…usually.
But in the posture of all drivers that attempt to squeeze ahead of you and deny you your rightful place in the chain of cars that stretch as far you can see, she looked straight ahead as if my car and I were invisible. I had the angle by about six feet. It was up to me. But my car was newer than hers. Even in her blank expression, I read her mind. She thought I would back off. I hesitated for a few moments. She was clearly ignorant of the protocol of merging onto highways. Either that or she didn’t give a damn about merging onto highways.
As I said, I had the angle, which meant if I just drove straight ahead, she either had to slow down or crash into me. We used to call it playing chicken. On the radio, I had a classic radio station on. It was playing an old song by the Four Seasons, a song I remember from those chicken-playing days, and maybe because of that, I sped up and ensured my rightful place in the lane as prescribed in the democratic principle of merging:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that while all cars are not created equal, they must act as equals when confronted with two lanes merging into one.”
I cut her off…with a smile.