This year I became a Jerk. It was a conscious and deliberate decision. I was not born a Jerk, but I had tendencies, and now I carefully have refined my Jerk-like instincts. The Dallas freeways are responsible.
Let me give an example of how it happened.
It is 6:30 p.m. and the Dallas/Fort Worth Turnpike is clogged with cars, some stopped, some puttering along at five miles an hour, and you can’t see far enough ahead to know if it’s a) an accident, b) a stalled car, c) a Rangers game, d) Unwed Mothers Day at Six Flags, or e) what traffic engineers call “off-peak congestion,” which translates roughly into “a bunch of cars and trucks all gummed up on the freeway for no apparent reason.” Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you see someone pull out of the right-hand lane onto the shoulder. He accelerates and speeds down the shoulder, flashing past the stalled riffraff. You watch him for, say. thirty seconds, expecting him to run up against a) a bridge abutment, b) a place where the shoulder turns to mud, or c) something that God puts in his way to prevent him from going faster than you are going. When this doesn’t happen- and it never does-you say aloud, “Can you believe that Jerk?” You sit there for two or three more minutes, reflecting on how Jerks always win. Then, tentatively at first, almost guiltily, you nose your car off onto the shoulder, press the accelerator gently, and follow the Jerk.
Now here’s the important part. Listen to this very carefully.
Suddenly, you don’t hate the Jerk anymore. You have released your resentment of Jerks by becoming a Jerk. You know that everyone else on the turnpike- every non-Jerk-is watching you. seething, hating you. calling you a Jerk. But here’s the strange part. Do you care?
Not Because you are a Jerk!
And what’s more, it doesn’t matter that you’re a Jerk, because you’ve already arrived at your destination while all the non-Jerks sit still in traffic.
Now I don’t mean to imply that being a Jerk is not dangerous. Jerk-Lane driving occurs in many cities of the United States, but it is most despised in Dallas. It has something to do with what I will call the Morality of the Wheel, the idea that a man’s driving is a direct and infallible indicator of a man’s morality. And certain things that Jerks do here are equivalent to dropping your pants in the middle of a First Baptist Church service. You can get killed in this town simply for being a Jerk.
But let’s look a little deeper into the soul of the Jerk.
What I’ve described so far is your most elementary Jerk Maneuver. In Chicago or Kansas City-two cities where I made Jerk Observations this summer-this most basic of Jerk maneuvers would scarcely be noticed. In Los Angeles, you would be hated and scorned for refusing to jump onto the shoulder just as soon as traffic begins to slow down. In New York, the science of Jerkdom is most highly developed. On the Long Island Expressway, for example, when one lane is closed for construction, everybody remains in that lane until it runs out. Then the two merging lanes alternate-one car from this lane, one car from that, one car from this lane, one car from that-in a remarkable display of post-modern Jerkdom. a Jerkiness so refined that it has become the epitome of accepted, orderly behavior. But in Dallas, the committed Jerk still has an enormous advantage over more timid drivers.
With this warning, let’s move on. then, to the intermediate levels of Jerk Driving, because once you’ve made the decision to “go Jerk.”’ you won’t be satisfied with mere shoulder evasions. Here are some of the most popular Dallas Jerk Maneuvers:
I. The “Secret” Arlington Stadium Maneuver: There are only two legal entrances to the stadium from I-30-one on the Dallas side, one on the Fort Worth side. But we Jerks use an exit halfway between the two official exits. It’s marked “Frontage Road,” and is intended only for people using a gas station there. As soon as you take this exit, you see a sign warning you that you are on private property. We all ignore this sign and continue twisting and turning through improper side streets to the unmarked bridge that runs over the freeway next to On The Border Cafe. Practiced Jerks have been using this maneuver since long before On The Border existed, and for years it had the added excitement of forcing you to dart twenty feet the wrong way down a one-way ramp while the Arlington police weren’t looking. This maneuver became impossible when the number of informed Jerks became so enormous that the Arlington police surrendered and gave us our own personal traffic cop, who now helps us get through the On The Border parking lot and onto the access road, arriving at the game a full half hour ahead of those stacked up on the legal exits. This is the best current example of Jerk Driving so triumphant that it has legal sanction.
2. The North Central Expressway YaleExit “Slingshot” Maneuver: One of myfavorite Jerk techniques, this one works exceptionally well at rush hour, when northbound traffic out of downtown is forced tonarrow from three to two lanes at Yale. Ofcourse, the lane at Yale is full of signsscreaming “Exit Only” and “All Traffic InThis Lane Must Exit” and other dire warnings not to cross the double lines at peril ofdeath. Apprentice Jerks simply remain in theright lane, speed down to the Yale exit, andjump across the double lines at the lastminute, thereby gaining ten or so car lengthson the polite non-Jerks who have preparedfor “the narrows” by getting into the correctlane. This is an extremely crude maneuver,and 1 don’t recommend it. The IntermediateJerk, on the other hand, will go almost to theexit sign, then pull to the left and activate hisleft turn signal indicator. This is a muchmore suave way of cheating, as if to say,”Oh, my God, how stupid of me, 1 came allthe way to the end of the lane before I realized I needed to get over.” Someone willalways fall for this and let you into the second lane.
But truly Advanced Jerks do neither of these. Advanced Jerks, having planned far ahead, simply take the Yale exit. They speed off the freeway, honk at people on the access road so they will be reminded of their duty to yield, then immediately get back on North Central at the next entrance ramp. This way you never have to slow down. There are no tie-ups and no traffic in the way. And the polite people on Central, unaware that you have just “slingshotted” your way to the front of the line, let you merge smoothly into the flow of traffic. Only the people thirty car lengths back have witnessed what you just did. They’re mad, but they’re trapped too far back to do anything about it. This Jerk Maneuver has the added satisfaction of being perfectly legal.
3. The Metered-Ramp Light “Whoops”Maneuver: When you’re trying to merge onCentral, but there’s a stoplight on your merging ramp, ignore it. The only person whowill know is the guy behind you, and since he’s busy yelling at you for being such a Jerk, he’ll have to sit there to prove his moral superiority. While he’s being a good citizen, you’ll be getting lost in traffic. In the unlikely event that you are ever stopped for running a ramp light, simply say, “Yes, Officer, I’m quite aware that I ran that light, but it was malfunctioning at the time.” You have a much better than fifty-fifty chance of telling the truth if you say this. Secondary excuse is, “Whoops!” This excuse is less effective, but it confirms you as an Advanced Jerk Driver.
4. The Road-Under-Construction “Merging Jerk” Maneuver: This occurs when, say,two lanes are being narrowed to one becausesome corrupt highway contractor is takingtwo years to add a layer of asphalt to a Pianofreeway. For those two years, there are signsup every day with warnings like “This LaneEnds,” “Merge Left,” and “Road NarrowsAhead.” Thank God there are so many non-Jerks in Dallas. As soon as they see thesigns, even if the merge is three miles distant, they instantly move over into the proper lane.
But not the Jerk. The Jerk purposely remains in whichever lane is about to end. Why? Because nobody’s in that lane. It’s fast. It’s moving. And when you get to the end of the lane, what do you do? You stop. You calmly turn on your indicator. And- voila!-the second or third car will let you in. Jerks hardly ever have to wait beyond the third car, and never beyond the fifth. I used to wonder why this was true, but I’ve now figured it out. To understand it, we return to the Morality of the Wheel. Here’s what those five drivers are thinking:
First Driver: “Look at that Jerk. He thinks he’s a privileged character. Thinks he can zoom up to the front of the line and just go on, pretty as you please, even though we’ve all been sitting here for twenty minutes. No way I’m letting that Jerk in.”
Second Driver: “I hope that first car won’t let the Jerk in. All right! I’ll stay close here so he can’t break in on me, either. Teach that guy to try to jump the line!”
Third Driver: “Well, he is a Jerk. I guess I’ll gang up on him, too. He can just wait his turn like everybody else.”
Fourth Driver: “Wow! Look how everyone is conspiring to keep that guy out of the line. I don’t know what he did, but it must have been something real Jerk-like. Wonder if I should let him in. Naw, not my problem.”
Fifth Driver: “Look how those Jerks are persecuting that poor guy trying to get into the line! I’m going to wave at him and let him in, to teach those impolite Jerks a lesson.”
This is why the Jerk always wins.
Finally, let’s move to the most advanced Dallas Jerk Maneuver, incorporating all previous Jerk Maneuvers listed above, plus approximately 12,000 hours of learned Jerk Behavior. This maneuver is not recommended for beginners. Again we return to Arlington for. . .
5. The “Post-Game Grand Slam”: You have two choices after a Rangers game. You can spend two hours getting home, or you can execute the Grand Slam. Here’s how it works. Point your car toward any of the fourteen-year-old Rangerette traffic girls with flashlights. They will twirl you toward the I-30 access road, where, if you’re smart. you will head west toward Fort Worth. Already you’ve avoided 40 percent of the Dallas traffic. You will find yourself on a four-lane access road. The non-Jerks will be bunched up in the extreme right-hand lane. Why? Because everyone must turn right on Collins, which is about one-half mile from the stadium. The second lane from the right will be fairly crowded as well. These are the “compromisers.” They’re not polite enough to be in the correct (right) lane, but they’re also not brave enough to be complete and total Jerks and get in the second lane from the left. This lane-far. far to the left, so far it would seem virtually impossible to make the dreaded Collins turn from here-is the designated Jerk Lane. Get in it. Speed down this lane. Go fifty while everyone else is going five. Now get ready for two Jerk Maneuvers in quick succession.
There is a traffic light on Collins. It cycles about every two minutes. Every time it changes there is a stretching of the line of traffic, as though the line is breathing and expanding-in other words, there is more space between the cars. As you approach Collins, time your arrival for the moment when the light turns red. The line will relax as everyone in the rear stops trying to “make the light”
This is your chance. You’re going so much faster than everyone else that you can simply sweep over into the adjacent lane before anyone notices. In some cases, you’ll have time for two sweeps and you can actually end up in the correct lane. As soon as you stop, the tight will cycle again. Most likely you will be in the second (incorrect) lane. But let’s take the worst case and say you’re still in the third lane but you must turn right. This calls for the ultimate Jerk Maneuver:
Put on your right-hand turn signal, stop your car in the middle of the intersection, and wait.
It works! 1 didn’t believe it, either, but it works. Oh, there may be a few people out there saying, “Can you believe that Jerk, trying to turn right out of the left lane?” But this is extremely rare. What most of them are saying is, “Oh, look, that poor man got so turned around he’s caught in the middle of the street.” This is why I say get into the middle of traffic before doing this. Make your mistake so enormous that no one can ignore it. Because the other thing people are saying is, “Arlington is such a mess. When are they going to fix these streets?” You are a victim of inept traffic planning. Wait until you see hesitation in their driving. Dart across two lanes. You’re on the Turnpike. Elapsed time: five minutes. Average time for Non-Jerk Rangers fans: forty-five minutes.
Congratulations. You are now a completeJerk.