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Venues: I made the 10 0'clock news in San Jose!
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I needed to commute across San Francisco's Bay Bridge due to demands placed on me by my employer, and so I gave up my delightful 20-minute ferry trip and joined the tens of thousands of people traveling on that highway. In less then a month, I hated what I had become: a sack of angry protoplasm, poised to lash out at the weak, determined to take my right-of-way.
Then, one clear morning at the toll plaza, I watched a sedan with MUNI written on it and an office supply delivery truck drive into each other at 3 mph, neither driver willing to yield to the other as two lanes merged into one. After that, traffic really slowed down as everyone craned their necks to watch the show
Astonished at their foolhardiness, I realized I was on the path that lead to the same level of frustration. I resolved to be the most courteous driver in the toll plaza and on the bridge. I allowed people to merge. I smiled at other drivers. I opened spaces so tractor-trailers could move over. Two patterns emerged: I would forget my resolution and drive nicely if it was convenient, and my fellow commuters, confused and angered by my culturally inappropriate behavior, would honk or even charge at me. Couldn't they see that my actions were benefiting everyone? If we allow space for merging, traffic can flow at a more steady pace instead of snarling at each on ramp and off ramp.
So I did what anyone marketing an unfamiliar concept would do: I advertised.
With a snapshot of my car, I designed a simple set of graphics, using both words and imagery to drive the notion home that I'm going to "Drive with Grace." A merge sign introduces the concept, and a zipper design finishes the suggestion. A zipper works because each tooth takes its turn, and like the tab of a zipper unites two sides into one, so do I whenever the opportunity arises. Various messages echo thoughts that either I or my follow drivers might be having, to draw us into a cooperative mental state.
I had to sell the idea to my wife (sometimes she has to drive this car, too!) and so I showed her the concept illustration. She gave it a tentative go-ahead. The final project is now traveling highways throughout the Bay Area.
Unique messaging appears on different sides depending upon the target audience. People already in traffic tend to not want to allow others into their flow, so they get the giant zipper. People waiting to merge tend to drive too slowly, so they are admonished to accelerate before they merge. I've clearly stated my intentions with this vehicle. I have forced myself to adopt a standard of behavior at all times when driving it: one discourteous event is all it will take to be labeled a hypocrite. And if you see me on the road and you get angry at courteous drivers, don't queue up behind me, friend, because I'm letting people merge.
Every time I drive it, I consider it a new performance. I've received applause, drop-mouth double takes, and thanks from truckers and frustrated on-ramp mergers. I've been asked what my rates are. Do I look like a taxi? Interesting, if I could re-message people's interpretation of the checkers on a cab. I've been background for a news spot. I enjoy my drives, now. Many artists struggle to get their work seen, while I see as many as 10,000 people in a commute, and directly influence the attitude of a handful every time I get behind the wheel. My goal is none other than to turn the mean streets nice, to create compassion in the commute, and possibly even alleviate some gridlock.