Road Kings and the Natural Law of Left Lane Occupancy

January 06, 2004

As I was driving north on the Edens Expressway late Saturday morning and saw the usual tight line of vehicles take up permanent 75 m.p.h. residence in the far left lane, I thought how futile the new Illinois law against such lane hogging will prove to be. It collides head-on with the natural Laws of Lane Occupancy, which run deeper and stronger than any mere legislation. I know this in a special way because, as I will explain later, I am in a category of driver all my own.

Left Lane Law is simple and satisfying to the ego, but comes with a built-in frustration factor that makes it hard for the faint of heart. It demands that drivers internalize a desire, well before turning the ignition in the morning, to pass and pass perpetually. These drivers fantasize about a fourth, fifth and sixth lane on the left, and if these would only be constructed, they would reside there too.

After all, they know that, since they are the Pinnacle of Driving Evolution, natural lane law demands that they should pass not only all the chumps on the right, but if there were any justice in this country, the idiots who loll astonishingly ahead. The true left laner is mystified: How did these slackers get in front of me? Why don’t they get out of the way? Do they think they are somehow better?

Middle Lane Law is a bit more complex, but no less kind to the ego. It demands that drivers know, deep in their hearts, that they are the cleverest on the road, the ones who have found the expressway’s Secret Lane. Since they have no intention of passing anybody and never have to deal with pesky mergers coming onto the highway, they can relax: eat submarine sandwiches, punch the radio for better songs, talk on the phone, doze. More skilled than the senior citizens to the right of them and more sensible than the top guns to the left, their sense of entitlement is through the roof.

True middle-lane occupancy entails this puzzlement, however: Why do people behind me keep flashing their lights and honking their horns? Why can’t they just relax? This is where Middle Lane Law makes its most serious character demand: passive aggressiveness. Unless would-be middle laners can draw a certain smug satisfaction from the anger of drivers behind, they will never last.

They must take the bus, ride a bike, or worse yet, take out a mortgage for a place in the right lane.

Right Lane Law makes the heaviest philosophical demands on its occupants.

True right laners are the Zen masters, the deep thinkers of the road. They know they are looked upon as fools and slack-jawed yokels by the other laners, but they don’t mind. They have a serene sense of who they are. They are above the rat race, the hurly-burly and stress of modern life.

They know that since they are in the right lane, they can let up on the gas pedal and move as slowly as they like–short of a dead halt. They are free to think, think, think as they clutch the steering wheel in classic driver’s ed “10 o’clock-2 o’clock fashion. When they come upon a merging lane, as even they eventually do, they can slow down further, or maybe speed up a little … or a lot. Hey, even philosophers are entitled to a little fun.

How do I know all this? The answer lies in a simple fact known only to my wife and kids, to whom I have explained the details on a daily basis. Do I spend an occasional quarter hour in the left lane? Of course, but only when driving conditions–such as a surplus of idiots on the road that day–make it necessary. Have I driven from the O’Hare exchange to Gurnee in the middle lane?

Yes, but only because the maniac fighter pilots on the left wouldn’t let me in.

Have I lollygagged on the right? Sure. I’m as philosophical as the next guy and know how to slow down and gaze at the passing scene.

And have I presumed to move to the right lane, then back to the middle, make a quick feint to the left, then jerk back again? Yes, but I can handle it, for my unique status is this: I am the only safe driver on the road.

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