Dan Rattiner's Stories

You and Your Moods: Hamptons Intersections, Happy or Sad

Heavy traffic in the Hamptons is a big downer here. It backs up. People tear their hair. And the old adage, famously put by Yogi Berra (or Groucho Marx) is so true, so true: So many people come here that nobody goes here anymore.

On the other hand, there is the psychology of the traffic. I am of the opinion that certain kinds of heavy traffic can put you in a good mood just as much as other kinds of heavy traffic can put you in a bad mood. I’ve discovered this. I expect that exercise gurus, psychology experts and physical trainers will soon take this up.

Here’s the good-mood traffic. It’s a four-way intersection with four stop signs. You stop. You see that the person who’s come in from the left side has already stopped. Another person arrives from the right side and stops. The person on the left side now goes through the intersection, waving at the other two cars. Next you go through, waving at the car on your right, and as you pass the car coming toward you coming to a stop you wave at him. And maybe you nod. Happy traffic. Happy you.

Here’s the bad mood traffic. It’s a two-lane main highway where someone from a side street, on your left as you come toward it, is trying to make a left. It is your intention to make the left into that side street. The car waiting to make the left is waiting for an opening. It’s a tough thing. The opening has to be between cars coming in both directions down this main street. As you approach, you see that this double opening is going to occur just as you arrive to make your own left. There’s only room in the double opening for him to make his left or you to make your left. And you know how this is going to turn out, don’t you, you evil son of a bitch?

You are going to arrive at the place where the opening is taking place, and you are going to put your blinker on and cause this person on the side street, who arrived at that corner long before you did, maybe hours before you did, to not be able to make the left into the just-arrived opening without hitting you. You have the right of way. So you can legally do this. But by doing it, you are condemning this side-street person to another half-hour of waiting. You do it anyway. Even though, deep down in your heart, you know that another break in the traffic—you only need it in one direction—will happen long before the double break in traffic will.

You make the turn and you avoid eye contact. Then, as you drive happily away, you look out your rearview mirror and see him still sitting there in the driver’s seat, waiting, waiting and waiting again for that double opening to arrive. And it is never going to come. You feel just awful for doing this. But you did it anyway.

I will end this commentary by reminding readers that there remains a law in the Hamptons called the Left Turn Hat law. It’s rarely used today. It was put into effect around 1985, when the traffic became intolerable (though not TRULY intolerable), in order to allow motorists the right of way to make left turns onto streets. The hats were green baseball caps with the white letter L on them (for Left Turn.) They’d ordered hundreds of them. And they sold them for $20 only to registered voters in each community. Wear the green hat while driving and all motorists will defer to you when you put that left-turn signal on.

The supply of green hats ran out and was never renewed. (Accidents happened because people claimed they did not know the law. Not knowing the law is not an excuse, of course.) But the law remains on the books. Get yourself a green baseball cap with the letter L on it. I believe it’s a minor league team.

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