Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Road test

Extend grace to the one who may seem off course but is merely the victim of appearances

Issue: "Finding their way," Oct. 8, 2011

I can think of five spots around town that are tricky traffic situations. I will spare you three.

One is at Rising Sun Avenue and Martins Mill Road, where if you turn right at the green light, in a very few yards you are confronted with another light, which is invariably red. Out-of-towners will be momentarily stumped. (The heart of Northeast Philly is not a good place for reflection on the vagaries of highway logic.) My friend Rich, who lives on the next block, says the correct answer is to proceed through the second light-which seems clear enough to me now that I know!

The second sticky-wicket is at Shoppers Lane near Cheltenham and Ogontz. This one is definitely a civil engineering goof. They have two left turn lanes feeding into a large parking area that serves a Shop Rite, Target, and The Home Depot-and as a matter of fact the leftmost of the two lanes leads to nowhere. (It was intended to siphon overflow parking, but that was a bad idea and they have yellow school buses parked there now.) You have to merge into the right lane at some point in order to proceed to your happy paint brush purchase.

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I noticed today that the locals handle the latter situation in one of two ways. There is the group that sticks to the right, either from some upper-story rectitude (see Francis Schaeffer), or fear of the Lord, or fear of drivers in the right lane who, having made "the right choice," are now in no mood to reward you for your selfishness in trying to muscle in. The other group, a minority (usually in cars vibrating visibly with deep bass sounds), speed past the idling do-gooders on their starboard side, and manage somehow to wedge into the narrowed artery.

My concern is for the innocent alien, the Philadelphia first-timer, the unsuspecting motorist from Montana, who, heaven forbid, dutifully but ignorantly applies his brakes at the Rising Sun Avenue light after turning right at Martins Mill. He will be lucky to escape with a chorus of angry car horns-and very unlucky indeed if the incident happens after the Phillies lose (or win) a World Series.

It is well for us to remember the times when we have been out-of-towners, or had a goldfish bowl on the front seat. Or when a snake that earlier got loose from our son's shoebox suddenly started slithering out of the heating vent (which happened to me). Your fellow motorist has life complications you cannot even guess at. Could be that pregnant lady's water just broke; maybe that guy who forgot your "wave" got a bad diagnosis today; maybe that moron creating gridlock at the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge just discovered he has gephyrophobia; maybe that rude lane straddler needs to find a bathroom-quick.

And if we may be permitted to extrapolate from macadam roads to other "roads," we may perchance find in ourselves a tempered judgment toward our fellow man who seems off course but is merely the victim of appearances. My son drove up from the city on a Saturday night to go to church with me on Sunday but forgot his good shoes, and had only the cruddy, grout-encrusted boots he had worn to install ceramic tile. May the well-dressed brethren at such times remember the day when a tuna casserole destined for the post-worship service potluck spilled on their dresses and patent leathers.

And if you happened to be in that pharmacy near Lansdale when I walked in with my granddaughter and purchased candy cigarettes, they were actually not for her but for my mother, to help her quit smoking.

"Love believes all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). These words were written because of twin left turn lanes off Ogontz Avenue, men wearing dirty shoes in church, and grandmothers caught red-handed with chalky ersatz Chesterfield Kings. They bid us consider that the person whose wind we ate eight miles back, and who now begs with plaintive eyes to let him merge, is a man from Montana, and just following the arrows in all innocence. We would want the same respect from him.

Email Andrée Seu

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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