Reprinted from July 25, 2001 Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX
Well, the family took a long weekend over to the Mississippi Coast in [late July]; in spite of some eight slowdowns for road construction in three states, we made it in just over seven hours, not much longer than it takes us to make the trip on a Sunday, when there is no road work. What made a potentially long and irritating trip so smooth and quick was the imposition of trucker law on the interstate, and it worked incredibly well.
I've written before about zippers, the little cretins who rush up past everyone who's trying to blend for lane closures - past the decent people, you know, who begin "queuing up," as the British put it, as soon as the flashing lights advise which lane will be closed - creating something near panic where the barrels begin to taper and force one-lane traffic. They rush up and muscle in, knowing fully well that they'll always find someone they can intimidate or someone who's just neighborly enough to cut these aggressive airheads some slack.
So, instead of traffic blending in orderly fashion over a five-mile stretch and slowing to maybe 45 mph, you have the whole line of vehicles stopping, then inching forward, then stopping again as the little anarchists force an entry. They are usually young white males in sleek sports cars (though occasionally you'll see a girl at the wheel), and there is a nice hot corner of hell waiting just for them - got a sign hanging up there, "Zippers Enter Here."
Folks, the zippers had a bad day Thursday. Uh-huh. I don't know how they organized it so well, but the truckers ran the show at every work site, and motorists blended into line and moved at a reasonable 40 to 50 mph, the way they would anyway if everyone behaved himself.
I don't know what truckers call the maneuver, but here's the way it works, the best I can tell: When they see the first sign warning of work ahead, they begin radioing each other to set things up. After passing the first lane-closure sign, they give motorists a reasonable length of time to blend, then one of them will drift over into the lane that will be closed and stay neck-in-neck with a truck in the other lane.
The pinheads eager to zip up and break in line finally realize after a few hundred yards that they are not going to be able to get past and hog in, so they reluctantly drop back and fall into line. They can't get past the blocking truck, since he stays even with the truck in the other lane, so they have to stay in position and behave themselves. If one does manage to get by - and sometimes he'll take the shoulder to do it - a trucker up ahead will be watching and move over and block him again, sometimes slowing down until he has the guy trapped between his truck and the blocking truck behind - oh, it's lovely to behold. Often you'll see five or six blocking trucks in a long line of traffic. When the blocking truck gets to the barrels, the truck paralleling him in the other lane slows down and lets him in, so he loses no time as blocker.
Hey, you're saying, doesn't this create road rage? Why, hell yes it does, but the people enraged are the tiny minority who enrage and endanger the safety of everyone else, so let them honk they horns and gnash and grind they teef - but they are going to go with the flow, the way they are supposed to. I haven't seen one yet bold enough to park his little sports car and jump up on a trucker's running board and try to pick a fight or use his little XZL4000 to bully an 18-wheeler.
No, sir and no, ma'am - they don't like it, but they fall into line and move in orderly fashion, and everybody gets through at a reasonable speed and without the risk of collision. (Aw, some of them get mad enough to cross over to a service road and try to race up and feed on ahead, but this rarely works. [There are places in Louisiana where you can go a long way without seeing a service road.] You'll usually see them stacked up, waiting to get back on the interstate as you move merrily along at 45 mph. The whole family finds this wonderfully amusing. You must always smile and wave at them as they pound the steering wheel and fume.)
I don't know how highway patrolmen feel about what these truckers are doing, and I don't know or care whether they are legal, but I'll tell you that the vast majority of motorists out there on our interstates certainly appreciate their efforts to maintain order where a small percentage of imbeciles don't mind causing chaos.
The next time you see truckers working the highway like this, give them a thumbs up as you pass them later, or have the kids applaud. Let them know how grateful you are for the job they are doing to ensure a safe trip for everyone.
Editor's note: Paul Ruffin writes a regular column for the Huntsville Item. He is a professor of English at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. He plans to do a follow up story. Watch for it in an upcoming issue of Land Line.
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