May 11, 2021

The Indirect Route

This is the twenty-third in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

I used to live in a residential area with narrow, double-parked streets crisscrossing one another. Most roads could only handle traffic from a single direction at any given time, as there wasn’t room for two vehicles to pass side-by-side.

Meeting a car coming the other way at a crossroads was an interesting experience. It would often lead to a stand-off, with nobody wanting to give way to the other drivers. It was like a local sport to see who would blink first.

This wasn’t an occasional scenario; it was a daily occurrence. I found it baffling. I couldn’t understand why people were so resistant to pulling over and letting someone past. Did they see it as a sign of weakness? Were there so many unconfident drivers who didn’t want to reverse on a narrow street? Was it just a lack of awareness?

I never got to the bottom of it, but I always found it odd. Everyone in this situation had the same goal – to move past it as quickly as possible. To my mind, the optimal solution was obviously for whoever could make the easiest manoeuvre to allow people past to pull over and end the stand-off. Yet that rarely happened.

Sometimes I would end up reversing fifty yards to let someone through who could have pulled over a couple of car lengths away. It was as if some people couldn’t see that doggedly trying to keep going forward no matter what isn’t always the best way to progress.

And that’s a lesson that I was reminded of almost every day I lived in that area. Sometimes the quickest way forwards is not a straight line. Sometimes you need to take the indirect route. Sometimes you need to pull the bow back to make the arrow go forwards.