By lex, on October 20th, 2003
Social Psychology in SoCal, defined by traffic patterns
I live in Carmel Valley, just across the 5 from Del Mar, California, home to the Del Martians. The Del Martians are blessed by proximity to the ocean, and exceptionally high property values. Nothing so enhances the value of a house, whether it be a shotgun shack or pleasure dome, as an ocean view. In a pinch, a “peek ocean view” will suffice to raise the fee of admission by a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Lawsuits have been lodged against those down hill that have, over the course of the last 50 years or so, permitted a tree to obscure what once had been a peek ocean view.
We Carmel Valley types are not quite there yet. We have ready access to the Elysian fields, even the same area code, but we are definitely across the 5.
It’s a nice area, Carmel Valley, in a restlessly striving for the next level, leased BMW X5 SUV kind of a way. The regional motto, somewhat wistfully, appears to be: “Not quite actually Del Mar”.
As a creature of habit, not to mentioned being constrained by military obligations, I leave home every morning at the same time, around 0710. I often leave work within plus or minus 30 minutes of 1630. There’s an overpass that joins the 5, heading south. On a normal morning (read: other than Monday) there’s little competition or traffic at that time of the morning. On Monday morning however, I’ve noticed that traffic is noticeably more dense.
Similarly, on Monday through Wednesday there’s not much in the way of traffic coming home, northbound, even at the infamous “Merge.” For those not familiar with San Diego, “the Merge” is where two major north/south arteries, Highway 5 and Highway 805, come together, bringing their separate 5 lines together to form 10 lanes, for about a quarter of a mile, before necking down again to 5 lanes, over the next quarter mile. Twenty years ago that kind of venturi effect must have seemed a ridiculous luxury… who could ever ask for more than five lanes of traffic, moving at 70 mph? Frequently much more…
But that was then, and this is now, and the merge can often be a nightmare, especially during the Summer months, when the irresistible draw of the beaches, combined with the nightly races at the Del Mar race track combine to present a parking lot of epic proportions. Hence the motorcycle acquisition, a couple of years ago.
Anyway, on Thursday afternoon, even off-season, the traffic becomes markedly denser at about 1600. And on Friday, it’s even worse.
What to make of all this? The Hive Mind. All over North County, hundreds, thousands of motorists and sarrirri-men make a decision, each on their own, but immensely additive in effect, to take off work a little early. Get a start on the weekend. Relax. And in their thousands (tens of thousands?) they get in their cars, careen at 80 mph up the 5 (or the 805, depending on place of employment) and run pell-mell into a field of brake lights miles long. At the merge. Week after week.
Sated, jaded and guilty on Sunday evening, they all decide to get up early Monday, and make sure they are at work before the boss, so they can check their email queues and answer the mail prior to the “others” arriving. There’s your Monday tie up.
And it’s kind of interesting to me, in a detached, I-drive-a-motorcycle kind of way, to observe this process, the way we fiercely independent Americans all make the exact same decision at the same time, week in and week out. How do we distinguish this from the migratory birds in their enormous flights, who suddenly bank and wheel all at once, with no apparent guiding force, the bees who suddenly rise from the hive, and seek out a threat.
It’s obvious to me that some folks out there aren’t real keen on the whole lane-threading thing that we two-wheeled types are prone to use in times of gridlock. I’ve had people try to edge me out, block the divider, potentially cause a nasty spill (not to mention scrapes on the Porsche).
It’s not easy for me to understand why… I mean, we motorcyclists are making a choice, driving on two wheels – we’re trading the security of a steel cage and air bags for time at home, and not costing the four wheelers anything. It’s like water filtering through rocks, no additive time accrues to the car driver. You’d think it’s the classic American entrepreneurial dream, a little more risk for the chance of reward at the end. There’s no law against it (in California). They might applaud us.
But they don’t. I guess they think it’s not fair, never mind that it costs them nothing, that someone else should gain advantage through the risks they take, the pain they’re willing to endure.
I guess they’re all leftists.