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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

a small gesture... a big effect

[a post directed at the two wheelers among us... but with a message that applies to all of us]

I am fortunate to enjoy mostly empty roads and good visibility during my commute, which gives me the freedom to lean way into the oncoming lane on curves... and occasionally hone my steering/handling technique by playing 'slalom' with the broken white line on long straight stretches of silky smooth blacktop.

But there are many twisty sections of my route with blind curves, and it has been my luck that my commute time has placed me on one of the most enjoyable twisty sections at the same time as a huge double trailer hauling ginormous limestone blocks from a nearby quarry to a stone mill somewhere further down the road.

The first couple of times I rounded a curve and had to pull up short behind this behemoth I was seriously annoyed. I ended up stuck behind him for five or ten minutes (an eternity in scooter time!), until I was able to glimpse enough 'daylight' to make a dash to pass him.

Once past him I was able to enjoy the open road again... but the time spent stuck behind him, breathing in diesel fumes and dodging bouncing pebbles, had me seriously considering finding another route... even if it added a few miles to my commute or placed me on a busier road.

I tried leaving a little earlier... and a little later, but somehow I almost always managed to hit the twistiest section of the road at just the same time as this big truck.

Then one day as I was making my dash to pass this over-sized truck, a funny thing happened:

As I pulled alongside him I noticed that a little extra space was opening up between the truck's huge tires and the road's center line. Sure enough, as I passed him and looked in my mirror, my suspicions were confirmed; two of his wheels were on the dirt shoulder. He'd intentionally moved over to give me more room to pass.

Instinctively I waved my left hand in the air to say 'thank you', and surged ahead to enjoy the rest of my ride.

The next time I encountered the truck in the curvy section of the road was a couple of days later. As soon as he spotted me hovering in his mirror, looking for enough daylight to pass, he immediately moved over a couple of feet, giving me enough room to squeeze by without having to risk crossing into the oncoming lane in the blind curve.

Again I offered the little hand waive... and this time it was answered with a short blast on his air horn.

Yeah, I know what you're probably thinking... that there's probably something illegal about two vehicles riding abreast in the same lane; especially on such a windy road. But out in the middle of nowhere I wasn't worried about getting a ticket. I was just pleased that I'd somehow won the willing cooperation of the vehicle which had, to that point, been the bane of my commute.

At least three times a week I encounter this truck... and more often than not I come upon him in the twisty section of the road. So long as there is even a sliver of shoulder he never fails to move over to give me safe passage.

Even more surprising; on more than a few occasions he's held an open hand out his window to hold me back. When this happens, invariably a moment later a car or truck will appear around the bend coming the other way. Somewhere over the course of a few months, this truck driver had gone from being a pain in the @ss, to using his forward position and incredibly high vantage point of his cab to warn me of vehicles coming in the opposite direction.

Yesterday morning a motorcyclist overtook me just as I caught sight of the big truck entering a curve up ahead. As I rounded the next turn I saw the motorcyclist doing what I usually did; hovering right behind the truck and waiting for a chance to pass. Sure enough, as soon as the truck driver spotted him, he lumbered over a little bit onto the shoulder to give some room. And upon seeing the daylight, the motorcyclist shot forward and was almost instantly out of sight.

But I noticed that the motorcyclist didn't acknowledge the courtesy. No wave. No flashed brake lights. No toot on the horn. Nothing.

After I'd passed the truck, and we'd exchanged our now-routine wave and honk, I spent the rest of my commute thinking. Did the motorcyclist do anything wrong? No. Could he have done anything differently? Yes.

We spend a lot of time complaining about the behavior of other drivers on the road... and in most cases our complaints are justified. But I wonder how often we acknowledge courteous / accommodating behavior in traffic. Yeah, I know we're sometimes too busy staying alive to worry about saying 'thank you' to the driver who just 'did us a solid'. Heck, in many cases we might justify our silence by thinking 'why should I thank him for simply acting civilized?'.

But the answer to that rhetorical question is that people like to be thanked. People like to be noticed doing the right thing. Everyone likes a smile or nod when they hold open a door or let someone into the flow of traffic... and people soon tire of being courteous if enough people fail to smile or nod.

I feel like we each bear some responsibility for the way we are perceived on the road. We can't control the reckless kids on crotch rockets or harried delivery boys. They will always give us a bad name... forget about them.

But if the rest of us made a concerted effort to wave a thank you, or even just nod to drivers who take notice of us and give us a little breathing room... they might just keep doing it.

Just my (long-winded) two cents.

Posted by David Bogner on February 8, 2011 | Permalink

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I am with you all the way on this post. The driving in Israel is awful; positively dangerous. And unsurprisingly, as part of the package, consideration for other road users is close to zero. So, like you, when another driver shows some courtesy, (after recoiling with surprise and shock) I give some signal to say "thank you". But, to date, I haven't received much in the way of return when I give another road user any consideration. I live in hope.

Posted by: Ellis | Feb 8, 2011 3:05:46 PM

FYI the accepted "thank you" gesture in Israel among truckers is to put on your emergency lights (both blinkers flashing at the same time) for a few seconds after you pass.

Posted by: alex | Feb 8, 2011 5:31:19 PM

Ellis... Hope springs eternal.

alex... A vespa doesn't have emergency flashers. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 8, 2011 5:34:16 PM

Amen, and that's a great trucker. I've noticed that in NYC, when I let cars cut into my lane in traffic, I rarely get an acknowledgment, though I always try to wave. It's really frustrating that people can't be bothered to acknowledge when someone does something nice.

There are studies that show that employees are happier with a verbal meaningful thank you from management than a small raise.

Posted by: Ezzie | Feb 8, 2011 8:34:27 PM

Love this story, David. It's so true and does make a big difference.... Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Val | Feb 9, 2011 3:18:34 AM

Love this story, David. It's so true and does make a big difference.... Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Val | Feb 9, 2011 3:18:34 AM

Love this story, David. It's so true and does make a big difference.... Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Val | Feb 9, 2011 3:18:34 AM

I always wave when people are nice to me on the bike. There are also times I help others out. Sometimes in heavy traffic, I'll hold back and let a truck or a bus in front of me. The truckers usually flash their lights at me to thank me. Buses, not so much.

Posted by: JDMDad | Feb 11, 2011 2:08:21 AM

this applies to all of us and to other things as well: a thank-you for the delivered mail, the grocery clerk, etc.

Posted by: rickismom | Feb 12, 2011 11:16:27 PM

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