January 16, 2013

The beauty of the 4-way stop (blog post)

This morning, after dropping my boys off at their schools, I stopped at an intersection I've been through thousands of times before. Just a standard suburban four-way stop. I intended to go straight across but waited to allow the pickup truck coming the other way to make his left turn across my path. He had arrived first, after all.

But he paused. He started into his turn, but tentative. He and the two guys crammed into the little cab with him watched me as they crossed slowly.

The pickup was cruddy and old, probably held together by string and prayer. The back was filled with gardening tools--rakes, a dented trash can, a lawn mower. A stereotypical independent lawn service coming to work in our upscale neighborhood from one of the neighboring, less affluent towns.

Behind me as I waited, an enormous SUV, the kind with room for eight kids and all their accoutrements, pulled up behind. Our town is filled with trucks like these, driven by moms who might not be decked out in Tiffany and Cartier but who almost certainly have some in their bedrooms at home. Our town is also crawling with BMWs and other vehicles that cost, I am sure, more than all three of those guys in the pickup truck make in a whole year. (For the record, I live in the "poor" part of town. No Tiffany or Cartier or BMWs for us.)

As I drove home from the intersection, I pondered the tentative way the pickup driver took his turn, the wary looks on the three men as they watched me. I don't know them or why they acted that way. Maybe they'd been hit by an impatient driver there before. Maybe it was something else.

In any case, it was their turn to go. So I waited. And they drove on.

The four-way stop does not distinguish between rich and poor, male and female, old and young, gay and straight. The four-way stop does not recognize the socioeconomic differences between a white bank executive and a Hispanic gardener. Everyone is equal at a four-way stop, subject to the same rules and order of precedence.

I find that beautiful.

But all my pondering left me with a big question. If we can all accept each other as truly equal at a four-way stop, why can't we do it everywhere?


4 comments:

Bob Palin said...

That's nice, but remember some of us are British, and among us some are English, and a few, those lucky few, are from Luton - there is a natural order to things...

Peter Dudley said...

You always deal with things in your roundabout ways, you Brits.

Stephen Parrish said...

You're on to something. Imagine: The Four-Way-Stop Foundation, devoted to equal rights for everyone.

Peter Dudley said...

Steve, that's a great idea. Let me know when you've got it going.