This article was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on 12-16-2007.
By Rick Rantamaki
ATLANTA, GA – There’re many secrets of the Atlanta roads the local drivers would rather visitors not know. For years, these secrets have been protected by the “commuter code”: an unwritten agreement amongst Atlanta commuters not to disclose their driving tactics.
Today, however, I shall break the silence and reveal to you (the naïve traveler) the driving secrets the locals employ to navigate through the seemingly chaotic thoroughfares of our great city. I do this at great personal risk. For my protection, these secrets have been recorded at an undisclosed location, under the cover of darkness, and I’m wearing a mask.
We’ll start off with a secret that involves “lane-shifting”.
It begins with the common myth about Atlanta vehicles; that we’re somehow afflicted by a citywide failure of turn signals. This myth has been allowed to perpetuate for years and I’ve often overheard the locals unabashedly fueling this lore.
Yeah, the story about how we all donated our turn signals to help light the Olympic flame - though a heartwarming tale - isn’t true. And I’m sure you’ve heard about the “turn signal virus”, the one that makes the little turn signal arm fall off the steering column when you open an email attachment, well, it’s pure fiction. Oh, and that rumor about how the oppressive heat during the hot Atlanta summers causes the filament in our turn signal lights to fail. Also, not true.
Truth is, turn signals reveal more information than my fellow Atlantans are willing to share. You see, we don’t want you to know our next move. I know this sounds strange, but think about it. If you knew we were going to cut in front of you, you might try to prevent us from accomplishing our objective. So we’ve developed a technique that permits us to overtake your lane without you suspecting anything.
But how is this possible, you ask? How can we execute a deliberately inhospitable maneuver such as this (a maneuver that, in other towns, might incite road rage) without your objection? How can we consistently bully our way through traffic and still make you feel as though you’ve somehow helped us? Is it sleight of hand? Smoke and mirrors?
Well, that’s what we’d like you to think. Actually, it’s quite simple, and here’s how it done:
While traveling along a busy highway (at whatever speed), we spot our “mark” (aka the clueless driver who is occupying the lane we want to be in) and begin our maneuver by rushing up to the bumper of the vehicle in front of us. Then we drift into the neighboring lane: for the sake of this demonstration, let’s call this our “target lane”.
Initially, the drift is suppose to look unintentional, like we dropped our shotgun and we’re frantically trying to fish it out from under the seats. When the driver in the target lane slows to avoid getting sideswiped by the maniac that’s apparently spilled his hot buttered grits, we finish the move by taking advantage of the momentary gap created by the wary driver and complete the shift into the target lane. Our “mark” has become another unsuspecting victim of lane theft.
Amazingly, the entire maneuver is done without the aid of mirrors and is rarely challenged. I’ve even seen it performed in front of fully loaded semis and school buses, too. It’s astonishing how many different drivers fall for this move. Some of them fall for it again and again and, remarkably, appear shocked each time it happens.
So, while our “mark” is still mired in traffic, our “masked commuter” is already home sipping on sweet tea.
Our next secret involves the emergency lane: that innocent stretch of asphalt between your lane and the parched grass along the highway.
In this scenario, traffic is at a standstill and irritation levels are on the rise. Suddenly, a rush of air rocks your car and you see the “masked commuter” whizzing by in the emergency lane. He always arrives on time, but how does he do it?
In your town the emergency lane may be reserved for “emergency” or “disabled” vehicles and, well, that’s what we want outsiders to believe our emergency lane is for too. We’ve even gone so far as to erect rather convincing signs stating such, but it’s all a sham.
Secret is, this lane is reserved for our in-town dignitaries: those people whose time is far more precious than yours. Unlike you, their schedules cannot tolerate traffic jams, especially snarls of the multiple-lane type. You see, under the protection of an unwritten code, our dignitaries are permitted to travel in the emergency lane as long as: a.) traffic is at a crawl or stopped and b.) their use of the lane is limited to two minutes (which means they must cover as much ground as they can as quickly as possible).
Now, this may seem a little silly to those visiting our fair city, but believe me, these people are the lifeblood of our economy. So, it is absolutely vital that they get to their destination on time.
And, as one might expect, a highly coveted privilege such as this requires some anonymity, so our dignitaries must travel in unmarked vehicles. Thus, to the untrained eye, it may appear as if some ding-a-ling is illegally using the emergency lane for personal gain. But, we know better and we proudly salute them as they pass.
One last secret before they close in on my location. Those solid white lines that are painted along the “on ramp” of the interstate - you know the ones that lead you toward the area where you’re supposed to merge with highway traffic, those lines you were taught not to cross in driver’s ed because they’re meant to keep traffic flowing in an orderly, predictable, manner.
Well, those aren’t really traffic control lines. Nope, not ‘round here. We use these lines to separate the tourists from the locals. That’s right, it’s our quick and easy way to herd tourists into a group while we shoot across the white lines and slip into the torrent of daily commuters.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get out of this hot mask and re-inflate my HOV doll.