Sunday, October 08, 2006

Changing Lanes

I am a lane changer - on the road and in life.

I am the girl standing there evaluating which line at Harris Teeter is likely to move faster. Will it be the middle aged woman with the extremely full cart and 2 whiny kids trying to make all sorts of last minute purchases from the candy rack or will it be older woman with a cart full of frozen dinners and paper towels? Which cashier is moving more efficiently? Is there someone helping them bag their groceries? How many coupons do they have? How will they pay? Yes - this is something to consider. Partly because down here, a lot of people pay by check. Yes, that's right. They write checks.

It shocked me and Marty the first time we saw it. We thought check writing was antiquated - short of paying bills. But as it turns out, it's not an antiquated practice. Not in Lincolnton anyways. One of the local banks won't even issue an ATM card unless you request it special. So you can find yourself standing in the right line only to get caught behind a check writer.

Cash payers can also slow you down - particularly those who sit there and fumble through their wallets and change purses to eke exact change. The ideal form of payment is credit card - just swipe and go.

We once got caught behind a woman who couldn't pay for her groceries. I don't say this to mock her. I say it simply to illustrate the point. We had already unloaded our groceries on the converyor belt. We politely waited for 10 minutes while she kept trying to swipe a debit card that wouldn't go through. Finally the manager was called over and at that point we gathered up our groceries, and changed lanes. That's the problem with lane changing while shopping - once you commit to a lane, you can't easily change. That's why so much thought an analysis has to go into the actual selection.

The only plausible solution to lane changing while shipping is to divide and conquer. This was a tactic I remember using with my mom when I was growing up. One person keeps the cart and stands in the line you think most likely to move. The other grabs a solitary item and stands in an alternate line - just in case. Presumably, the one with the cart has made the right decision and it's easy for the other person to surreptitiously slide out of line and join them. If not, the cart pusher has to make the move to the new lane and suddenly the guy standing behind you - thinking he lucked out that you only had 1 roll of paper towels, realizes he's been screwed by the divide and conquer technique. Divide and conquer also works well when standing in line for movie tickets.

Changing lanes while driving is different. And I am not talking about changing lanes in free flowing traffic on a highway. I am talking about backed up traffic, creeping along.

Sadly, this is a dilemna I face each and every morning.

I take 16 into Charlotte. I pick it up just on the outskirts of Mecklenburg County and for the first few miles, traffic moves freely. But the closer you get into the city, the slower traffic moves and the more it backs up.

For a while, I thought I had figured it out. Once you cross Bellehaven, you want to be in the right lane. This is because at the stoplight at Hovis, there is a lane that peels off to make the right turn and many cars take it. Then, if you can, get into the left lane until you cross the train tracks and then make sure to get back into the right because a third lane appears on the right to feed people onto 85 South. You'd be amazed at how many cars move into that far right lane allowing you to quickly move forward. At the traffic light with the Exxon station, you want to cross back left because now any possible ground you could have gained by cars moving to the right is gone and you can pick up more ground with cars moving to 2 new lanes to the left to get on 85 North.

Once you cross 85 onto the loop, it's generally smooth sailing.

It's pathetic, I know, that these are the types of things I think about. But I am - for whatever reason - constantly evaluating which lane I want to be in. Is this driver next to me slow enough so that I can squeeze in front of him? Is there a truck in my lane that will slow down traffic while he takes 60+ seconds to get up to speed (I know this because I have driven a truck and 0 to 60 in six seconds is not in a truck drivers vocabulary.)

When I exit onto Providence Road, I know not to get caught in the left lane because cars often stop to turn (there's no turning lane) and you can get stuck for a while. So I always stay right - EXCEPT for the first few lights when the right lane seems to creep and I sometimes go left (there's actually 3 lanes at this point so I am really going middle)and then hope to squeeze back over right when somebody turns into the gas stations.

The lane changing rules I have created for myslf are quite complicated. And they don't always work. Sometimes, I follow the rules, and I still wind up in the wrong lane. It's not a perfect science.

And yet, these are my mornings. This is what I think about. Right. Left. Stay straight. Change lanes. Timing. How can I outmaneuver the other drivers? And for what? Will I get there 2 minutes faster? 5? 10? Does it matter?

I am trying to be better about lane changing while driving. Mostly because I realize there's not much to gain by constantly switching lanes. But also because I already have one dented fender - I don't need two.

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