Sometimes You Have To 4-Way Stop And Smell The Roses

May 11, 2012


A little Friday optimism amidst Syrian terror and North Carolinians…

Yesterday I came to 4-way intersection.  Somebody at the stop blasted through, barely stopping, clearly with no illusion that it was his “turn.”  Now, I had my normal reaction to this (“YOU ARE THE WORST PERSON ALIVE AND I HOPE YOU CHOKE ON YOUR OWN JUVENILE ARROGANCE”), but then I was stricken by the amazingness of 4-way stops.  More specifically, the way that they reveal how people are, ultimately, good inside.

Okay, I totally realize that this is a bold claim to make, based on an intersection.  But sometimes it can be pretty easy to conclude that people are just awful.  In fact, it’s been the belief by a lot of people for a lot of history that we are evil and must work to overcome it, but consider:

You can see from this simulation that 75% of the vehicles contain decent, kind people. 22% contain people who will space out and forget whose turn it is and refuse to go. The other 3% suck and I hate them.

There’s no actual reason to wait your turn at a 4-way stop. Yes, technically it’s a traffic violation, but does anyone really worry about getting a ticket for going out of turn?  And, yes, you could get in an accident, but that’s really unlikely, too, because everyone else is being careful.  And of course people sometimes do go out of turn, but that’s pretty unusual.  And when they do?  It’s an OUTRAGE.  Which means that most of the time, we just collectively agree to wait our turn.  In fact, what’s the most common irritant at a 4-way intersection? It’s this familiar scenario:

Car 1: “You go ahead. 
Car 2: “No, no, you go.” 
Car 1: “Go ahead.” 
Car 2: “It’s okay!  You go first!”
Car 1: *wave wave wave* “You go!”

And it continues like this until everyone runs out of gas, or they all go at once and collide.

If people were actually bad inside, don’t you think that a 4-way stop would be hugely problematic? A constant race of “who can dominate the intersection first”?

Well, okay, not on Black Friday. There’s nothing good to think about humanity on Black Friday and no one would let you in line if their cart was full and the only thing you were buying was insulin.

It’s kind of like when you get in the check out line at the grocery store, and you’ve got 2 things in your hands.  The people in front of you have a huge cart.  I would say that the majority of the time, if those people see you with your two items, they will say. “Oh, you can go ahead of us, it’s fine!”.  They have nothing to gain from letting you go first.  Nothing!  And not everyone does it, but if they see you standing there, and haven’t loaded their stuff on the belt, I’d bet two-thirds of people would tell you to go first.  That’s pretty good, when you think about it.

And lord knows there’s plenty to think badly about humanity in the check-out line of the grocery store.  Tabloids, of course. I once saw (and have always regretted not purchasing) two tabloids side by side. The first one had a picture of whomever.  The starlet of the month.  It said “Anorexia nightmare!  So-and-so’s Life in Danger!” with the girl looking wan, boney, and weak.  Right next to it was a tabloid with the same girl, now in flattering light and a bikini, and it said “So-and-so’s diet secrets!  How she got her beach body back!”

Scoff. Psh. Fneh. Look at that junk food. I am just SO SUPERIOR. Hm? What, the 8 tubs of Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide in my cart? Well, how’d that get there?

Another thing that can make you feel bad about humanity is the crap most people put in their grocery carts!  Yu-uck. Sometimes don’t you see what people are buying and wonder how it’s possible that they’re physically alive? And that can’t make you optimistic.

And then of course, in the checkout line, you’ve got jerks like me, judging what’s in your cart.  And feeling quite pleased with myself – I might add – as I load, oh look at that, more vegetables on the belt.  Hm, aren’t I healthy and great and you’re not?  See?  That’s not very nice, is it?

But that’s all secondary – because in the end what really matters isn’t that there is awfulness everywhere; of course there is.  But when people lash out (and I’m talking about the banal day-to-day rottenness, of course) it’s usually from a place of wounding – damaged people, frightened people, people who’ve been convinced by some twisted force that they want to buy Mountain Dew by the case. But there’s a lot of kindness and good in our daily lives that’s just there.  All around us.  In all 4 directions, you might say.

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About The Byronic Man

Recently voted "The Best Humor Site in America That I, Personally, Write," The Byronic Man is sometimes fiction, but sometimes autobiography. And sometimes cultural criticism. Oh, and occasionally reviews. Okay, it's all those different things, but always humorous. Except on the occasions that it's not. Ah, geez. Look, it's a lot of things, okay? You might like it, is the point.

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59 Comments on “Sometimes You Have To 4-Way Stop And Smell The Roses”

  1. 1pointperspective Says:

    I had a guy in a blue Nissan Pathfinder go out of turn at a 4-way stop the other day, costing me precious seconds in my commute. My first reaction was to wish a plague of sores upon him. After I calmed down, I realized that he was probably just not paying attention. This can happen to people at this time of year, so close to Mothers Day. As I ponder it further, it occurs to me that his mother was probably an abusive woman who had treated the man and his siblings terribly as they grew up hard and fast in a miserable trailer park. His resentment of his less than glowing memories of his mother is likely at a fever pitch as he’s bombarded with Madison Avenue’s versions of perfect Moms this time of year. Thanks Byronic Man, I’m feeling better now!


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I always love the people who gun it and weave in and out of lanes to shave those “precious seconds.” Then, after much stress and pissing people off and being a jerk, you get to the next light and they’re 2 cars ahead of where they were. Wow. Well, done. What ever will you do with all that extra time you’ve saved?


  2. Michael Says:

    So, if four-way stops prove that people are ultimately good inside, does that mean that traffic lights imply the opposite?


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Yellow lights prove the difference between cities and small towns, mentally. I, more than once, have almost rammed someone because they slowed down at a yellow light. What are you doing, idiot?? The light’s yellow, that means gun it!


  3. pegoleg Says:

    Where do you live that all the cars are red?


  4. Tina Says:

    I must be a really good person. I use my turn signal always, even if it’s the middle of the night and I’m in a corn field.And what about elevator etiquette?


  5. tedstrutz Says:

    My grandfather always said that the guy with the oldest car has the right of way.


  6. sj Says:

    “The guy on the left goes first. I’M THE GUY ON THE LEFT!!!!”

    That is usually me at a four way stop. I like when people wave for me to go first, but I HATE the asshats that decide they got there first, when I have CLEARLY been waiting a much longer time.

    Also, yes. I totally judge carts. And then giggle about their contents with my husband.


  7. crubin Says:

    It is only right one lets those with just an item or two go first in the tabloid-peppered, check-out line, because where else can you play “Match the Cellulite to the Celebrity” and not feel like a complete loser?


  8. She's a Maineiac Says:

    I think you know how I feel about 4 way stops. I could barely bring myself to read this post because I was already panicking.

    And, so what if I buy a jar of cheese balls the size of a small vat. And ten 12 packs of Red Bull. You don’t have to give me that look every single time I see in you line buying the National Enquirer.


  9. alleybeth Says:

    While I agree with your assessment of the four way stop, I am quite certain that this does not extend to the traffic circle.

    Yielding is a foreign concept to those who dwell in the traffic circle, making it hard on those who wish only to pass through unscathed.


  10. Jackie Cangro Says:

    I like the way you think, Byronic. Most people want to do the right thing. Hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of times every day people are politely going about their day following the unspoken rules of conduct.

    Though the checkout line…I must say that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Brooklyn (where I live). Ever. Dare to dream…


  11. Audrey Says:

    It’s a happy thought for Friday! I have to admit I kind of judge shopping carts in the grocery store – need to quit that…


  12. MJ, Nonstepmom Says:

    I cant complain about the 4 way stop – cute blonde in little red car always gets the “wave wave -you go” from guy in large pick up, so I do pretty well.
    However I am an a mission to find and have permanently removed from the road the blind old lady that nearly took out my son had he not driven up on the curb to get out of her way. Shes mine – Her [driving] days are numbered !


  13. Francesca Zelnick Says:

    It’s funny your four-way-stop on human goodness idea lead to the supermarket, because I have the same thought whenever grocery stores leave flowers and things out front to take inside and purchase. Why don’t people just steal those? Or maybe they do, I’m not really sure, but there’s a certain level of trust and honesty that goes into that, and I always think “maybe we are all better than we think.” 🙂


  14. gojulesgo Says:

    YES! I’ve so often thought the same thing about 4-way stops. It really IS so much more likely that everyone’s all, “No, no you go!” Even in JERSEY. So I can only imagine how it goes in Oregon (dang, when I visited the Pacific Northwest, EVERYONE went the speed limit. It was maddening).

    You really should have gotten those 2 tabloids! LOL Oh and I HATE when people stare at my items on line at the grocery store, but of course I do the same thing. What they don’t know is that I’m going home to mix that fancy all-natural grapefruit juice with my cheap vodka. Who KNOWS what you’re doing with that ice cream.


  15. madtante Says:

    I used to nearly come to tears at 4-way stops because ya know, I’m from an area where you generally stop for livestock and they don’t follow traffic codes. THEN I moved to Kirkwood, a (back then) sleepy little PERFECT “small town” from the movies…

    Except EVERYBODY ran 4-ways. Nobody stopped. They didn’t even do the infamous “Missouri Rolling Stop” which means you slow down, lean forward and decide if you can make it through w/o getting broad-sided.

    I learned to be MUCH more aggressive. I’ve sat in Kirkwood CRYING (for realz) while people in every other direction kept going…It hardened me. I don’t try to “take” somebody else’s turn but if they overly-pause, I’m not saying, “No, no. You take it” anymore.

    And when I’m in Kirkwood, I hardly slow down. “You’re in Kirkwood now, son!”


  16. tomwisk Says:

    Your post stuck an old quote in my head. It was by Thurber, I think. “He went off in all directions at once.” A grocery store prank: Pick up a pack of condoms. Stalk a likely victim. Drop pack into their basket (Don’t get caught) Wait at the checkout.


  17. Roshni Says:

    Loved this post. Even though you had that light-hearted tone, the underlying message was touching in a lot of ways. Especially the last few lines. 🙂 It’s awesome to see so much of goodness around, even when the world seems to be going bad bad bad! 🙂


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Thanks. I think the world continually balances. More good, more bad. I remember when I was a kid and some religious folks came to the door. Their opening line was “Don’t you think the world is getting worse and worse?” I didn’t know it was rhetorical, so thought about it and said, “No, I’d say with all the good things happening it might even be getting a little better.” They didn’t know where to go from there.


  18. Lenore Diane Says:

    Regardless of what Angie says, I read the whole thing. Honest. The part about the guy at the four-way stop waving his bags of newly purchased vegetablw had me in stitches. You should have mentioned check-out lines.


  19. benzeknees Says:

    You should try driving in Edmonton – we have traffic circles. At first it’s pretty hard to figure out what to do, but as long as you remember the guy on the inside always has the right of way, you’ll only stroke out once a week. 🙂


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      We have a ton of traffic circles here, but all single-lane. The double & triple lane ones make me want to faint. That being said, it is funny watching people approach them who aren’t used to them. It’s like they’re trying to jump in to the middle of a juggling act.


      • benzeknees Says:

        And that’s exactly how I felt when I had to drive in my first traffic circle. But it’s funny, once you get used to it, it’s like a dance with a rhythm all it’s own. Wish your wife a Happy Mother’s Day, she is now a momma too!


  20. Richard Wiseman Says:

    I don’t drive a car, never have done, and I don’t go shopping, ever; hate money and shops and all that bollocks. Wife does shopping and driving. I’d agree with you on levels of ‘awfulness’ among human beings; there’s a lot of psychological and emotional dysfunctional behaviour out there really. I don’t think we need armies to fight wars, I think we need tens of thousands of therapists to help people get over themselves and their upbringing. CBT for the world I say!


  21. Paul G. Eberlein Says:

    Further to your 4-way stop simulation: “The other 3% suck and I hate them.”
    Beware! According to the DSM-IV, these are the psychopaths. Say nothing, do nothing and let them pass–quickly–out of your way and out of your life.


  22. spilledinkguy Says:

    Buying carbonated beverages by the case actually sounds pretty classy to me.
    I always purchase it in two liter bottles (and that’s just because Coke doesn’t yet make their product readily available by the drum). This might lead you to believe that I’m at least civilized to use a glass to consume said beverage, but… nah. Seriously, I’d load that stuff into an I.V. if I could figure technology like that out.


  23. pithypants Says:

    Clearly you don’t live in DC. It’s like a game of roshambo at stop signs around here, which generally *does* result in an accident. Ergo, my conclusion: most people are generally good, except those who drive in DC. They are bad, bad people on the whole.

    And yes, I own a car. My first one was totalled. By a drunk driver. While my car was parked. In DC.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      And of course there are certain residents of DC who might few themselves as more important than regular citizens. People with IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO, and PRIORITY and such…


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