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Fear of Yielding: the Zipless Merge

October 03, 1998|MONICA HUFFMAN | Monica Huffman, recently of Los Angeles, now lives in New York

How old were you when you found out how zippers worked? Were you in kindergarten? Pre-school? The same age you discovered how shoelaces are tied, how buttons fit together, how Legos locked together to build fortresses on the dining room floor?

There was a certain mystical quality to the zipper, the greatest mechanical mystery you'd encountered thus far in your young life. Lo and behold, all those tiny teeth on the edges of your jacket fit together! Pure magic, this zipper business. Secret, mystifying and unfathomable.

Perhaps this explains the inability of the American adult to grasp the concept of merging in traffic.

Kindergarten was kindergarten. By now, all of us should have figured it out. There are two columns, one on the left and one on the right. The proper merge procedure is this: first one from the left, then one from the right. One from the left, one from the right. That's it. First the Toyota, then the Saab. First the truck, then the convertible. See how nice and easy it is? Do you even remember the zipper?

A brief drive along any Southern California freeway is proof that most American adults need to review this basic theory of merging. It starts off innocently enough; caught in rush-hour traffic, I watch in amazement as two lanes merge utilizing the proper procedure. Just when I decide that maybe remedial classes in zipping are not a necessity after all, I see it. The van on the left, whose driver is either terminally competitive, suffering from delusions of grandeur or simply a jerk, does not wait for the El Camino on the right.

The perfect, Zen-like seam of merging cars screeches to a halt. The El Camino driver, denied his rightful place in the Big Zip, issues a Freeway Gladiator Challenge and inches forward. Seconds later, he wisely backs down, knowing that any further ruckus will only make things worse. But as I graciously allow the El Camino in ahead of me in order to correct the balance of the zipper, I catch The Look on his face. The Look, directed at the van, that says, "Just wait until you try to merge onto the 15, pal. I'll be there and I'll be doing 90."

But it is too late. The zipper-impaired van has already upset the balance of the national interstate system. From Long Beach to Ventura, on the 5 from Mission Viejo on up through Canada, the order of the zipper is shattered.

As a nation, we have the power to control international trade, to end world wars and to make movies that gross more than the national debt. And yet the American adult, with all these abilities, cannot merge properly in traffic.

However, there is some hope. I have seen it on the surface streets. Somehow, the American adult has been able to grasp the concept of four-way stop signs. See, it's not so bad, really. We just have to get back to the child within, and remember the zipper. Once this is accomplished, we can move on to more complicated things. Like signaling before a lane change.

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