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12/18/99 The Merge Concept
11/19/99 Degrees of Sickness
10/24/99 The Finger Game
10/14/99 Learning Very Slowly
09/26/99 Serfs Up
09/04/99 Kindergarten
08/15/99 The Son Also Rises
08/06/99 Time to Listen

The Merge Concept

According to the odometer in my car, I have driven to Andromeda and back. In my travels, I've seen a few freeways. Some would even say I'm a pro. But no matter how many times I join the flow on the freeway, I never feel quite safe. Too many people fail to grasp The Merge Concept.

One moment we have a lane all to ourselves, enjoying the "free" in freeway, and the next moment someone wants a piece of the action. Our action. We are forced to accede our freedom and, worst-case scenario, decelerate to accommodate them. We have to share!

Perhaps it is time for us to establish some simple parameters for both the merger and the mergee to come to terms with this predicament.

Scenario One: We are on the freeway, and someone wants in.

Like any wedding, planning is everything. Many of us fail to realize that a merging moment is about to occur. We don't see the car on our right or anticipate their ambition to get over. If someone has made it through the freeway onramp and is now driving alongside us in the slow lane, chances are that they are not going to change their mind and turn back. They will need to merge. If we don't recognize the fact, both cars continue to travel at similar speeds until the merger gets so frustrated that he or she just goes for it, at which point we get upset for being cut off, guns are drawn, Wyatt Earp is nowhere to be found... so it goes.

When someone gets on the freeway beside us, we have a decision to make: We either speed up and let him slither in behind us, or we slow down and allow him to merge in front of us. The latter method may be difficult for those who carry a fragile ego, but we can consider it training for the afterlife -- Zen and the Art of Merging.

If the merger uses his blinker, or "indicator" as they say in Britain, he should receive Brownie points for so doing. If we have a choice between speeding up and slowing down, we should slow down. If nothing else, it will give them a Pavlovian pat on the back. If they do not use their blinker, we should assume that they will merge whenever, in which case it is best to abandon the lane altogether and let them find their accident elsewhere.

Scenario two: We have just entered the freeway and need to "blend."

The first thing we must do is GAIN SPEED. It is folly to attempt a merge at 50 miles an hour. Being overconservative is the most reckless kind of driving. We must develop a respectable velocity, "indicate," and then find our niche in traffic. We shouldn't get angry if others don't make way for us. We are, for this time, merely guests.

Once we have found our niche, it is in our best interest to go with the flow. The speed limit must take a back seat -- get it, back seat -- to the flow of traffic. American freeways haven't turned into the autobahn quite yet, but it's safe to say that if we are doing the speed limit, we're pretty much in the way. Also, if our merging has caused anyone to slow down or otherwise modify their behavior in any way, it is a good idea to move over to the third lane. For further reference, see the 12,000 cases of road rage on Unsolved Mysteries.

The Merge Concept is an underrated phenomenon on the highway today. Mastering the theory can prevent untold accidents, bafflements, and four-letter oaths. With 5 billion people in the world (picture a million people and then think, Okay, I'm not even remotely close yet), there is a lot of merging going on every day. A friend of mine has the philosophy that if he just gets over slowly, others will notice him and get out of the way. Which is great up to the point when he merges with someone who has the same philosophy.

Finally, and most important, remember that the vast majority of all automobile accidents happen while you're in your car.


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