My street is crowded and narrow. The space between parked cars on both sides isn’t even divided into lanes; it’s barely wide enough for one car, let alone two, to pass without dislodging a sideview mirror or clipping a fender. My 1985 Toyota Celica, about half the size of a bicycle, looks like a Hummer when careening down this street.
On my way home from school at five PM every day, I sludge through this congested artery in rush-hour traffic (the street becomes a major commuter route conveniently about a block south of my house). As another car approaches, we both pull over to let each other go. Almost every time, I chuckle to myself; it reminds me of walking down a hall towards someone who is walking the other way, so I veer right to avoid bumping into them and so do they, then I veer left and by that time they have too and we end up doing some ridiculous dance for a few seconds. Eventually the other driver firmly states, through abstract hand motions behind the wheel that he or she will not move until I do. So I pass up the hill, and in the short moment that I’m parallel with the driver who let me by, I acknowledge his or her courtesy with a nod or a smile. As I reach my driveway, I peek in my rearview mirror to watch him or her continue down the road.
Through this frequent, seemingly insignificant event, I have learned a lot about people. They really are kind. But I don’t think it’s because they think it’s the right thing to do, or at least it doesn’t start out that way. Those other drivers don’t let me go out of the goodness of their hearts, but because they just want to get where they’re going without any trouble.
It is the mutual avoidance of destruction that leads to our kindness. In this small, cramped passageway, there’s no time to go through and assume the other party will pull over. We are forced to cooperate because no one wants an accident. We depend on each other for the assure that if I let you pass, you will also let me pass.
In my diminutive Celica, I am the equal of the looming Escalade because we both have somewhere to go. Somewhere that Escalade has its own crowded, narrow hill and its own driveway.
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