In hindsight, there were a lot of important lessons I learned during this 3 summer gig, the most important of which was: “Pretty sure I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. Reckon I better stay in school.”
That was lesson #1.
And here is lesson #2: Never underestimate the value of a smile and a friendly wave when trying to merge in heavy traffic.
If you’ve never been to Pittsburgh, let me quickly illustrate what it’s like to drive in a city that was built when the major mode of transportation was on the back of a donkey.
Imagine parking one car in a very narrow driveway with its nose facing out toward the street.
Now imagine a second car parked in the very same driveway, but facing the opposite direction of car #1.
Now imagine an endless string of cars parked along both sides of the driveway. If you’re looking for an extra challenge, imagine the driveway sitting on a 15 degree incline that looks like a damn roller coaster. Oh, and visualize snow too. Lots and lots of snow.
If you can figure out how to get car #1 AROUND car #2 without hitting anything, you are now ready to drive in Pittsburgh.
It’s been said that the very first case of what we now know as “road rage” actually occurred in Pittsburgh in the late 1700’s. No joke.
It’s also important to keep in mind that Pittsburgh was built around 3 Rivers; The Allegheny, The Ohio, and The Monongahela (Monongahela being a Native American word meaning “You can’t possibly get THERE from HERE”) which means that for the average schmuck to get anywhere, he has to traverse across 19 different bridges, all of which max out at four lanes, two going each direction.
To get from Downtown Pittsburgh to the South suburbs every vehicle within the city limits has to shoe-horn its way onto one of several two lane roads which eventually turn into one merge lane which eventually leads on to a two lane bridge, which eventually goes through one of two major tunnels.
Now imagine trying to do this as a 19 year old kid in an oversized fire engine red Coca Cola truck.
I am convinced that my first 9 trips to therapy in my 20s were all prompted by some version of this scenario re-playing itself on an endless loop in my head while trying to get to sleep.
After several months of negotiating this vehicular shit-show and developing a stress ulcer as a result, a wise old truck driver shared this bit of knowledge with me:
“People are so pissed off at the end of the day, at their boss, at their wife, at the jerk that cut them off 2 miles back, that they’re just looking for a reason to be mad. In order to successfully merge, you need to make sure YOU are not that reason.
Next time you’re trying to get from Smithfield Street onto the Fort Pitt Bridge in between 47 other bone-heads trying to do the same thing, just do this: roll down your window, smile the BIGGEST damn smile you’ve ever smiled in your life at the car you need to get in front of, point at the spot you’d like to insert your truck into traffic, and give a look that says “Wow, this sure sucks, doesn’t it?”, and then when the other driver lets you in, which he will, wave in thanks, not once but TWICE. It’s good road karma. Trust me on this, kid.”
20 odd years and 2,000 miles later, I’m still a double-waver whenever I merge.
My road karma, from what I can tell, kicks MAJOR ass.
Feel free to connect these dots in any way you see fit.