Oh, J.R., how I envy you

Photo of actor Larry Hagman as J. R. Ewing from the television show "Dallas."

Larry Hagman as J. R. Ewing, June 1982. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

I haven’t seen the new iteration of Dallas. But I remember enough about the original to know there was one charming DFW trait the show never depicted. If they had, it probably would have involved someone — Cliff Barnes, maybe? — paying someone to run J.R. off the road, or swerve into J.R.’s lane on I-635 as though he wasn’t there. The idea would be to throw J.R. into extreme road-rage mode, causing him to beat the crap out of the driver, thereby getting him arrested (just to piss him off, of course).

For ratings purposes, the incident would’ve had to result in the driver’s death or extreme injury, which could have led to subsequent survivors of real road-rage incidents attempting to sue CBS. Too much mess for too little payoff. And so viewers never got to see that facet of Dallas — the one that has nothing to do with ostentatious cowboy hats, oil fields, or family feuds, but rather the real life-and-death experience that challenges North Texans every day.

Many U.S. cities are notorious for their residents’ maddening lack of driving skills. I’ve lived in and visited a few, and always have the same reaction: If people think this is bad, Dallas/Fort Worth will make their heads explode. The drivers here exhibit behavior I will never understand. Ever.

I’m not just talking about bad driving — sudden lane changes with no turn signal; passing on the shoulder going 90 mph; running red lights — I’m talking about truly bewildering driving.

I’ll give you an example. When a lane is ending, we’re provided plenty of notice. There are signs Image of a typical road sign, warning drivers that the right lane is ending, and they need to merge left.reading, “Land ends, merge left.” Or there’s the graphic-only version. Sometimes both. And, for those of us who live here and drive the same routes to and from work every day, we have the added bonus of knowing where these points exist. Regardless, the drivers here refuse to merge until the last possible second.

Why?

When I learned to drive, I was taught to begin attempting to merge as soon as I became aware that my lane was ending, and the sooner, the better. If you hit the stretch of road where the lane is physically diminishing in width, you’ve gone too far.

I have never personally driven in that “diminishing lane” space, because that stretch of road isn’t meant to be driven on. If you’re in it, only a portion of your vehicle fits, while the rest of it is attempting to occupy space that another vehicle is currently occupying and, well . . . take a physics class.

So I merge ASAP, like my driver’s ed teachers all taught me to. But so many drivers here just looooove to hug that right-hand white line, following it as though it were the freaking yellow-brick road, right to the very last second. If there are cars already in the lane they need to be in, it doesn’t seem to bother them. They just keep on drifting in until the rest of the world comes to a screeching halt to let them complete their bizarre, epic lane change. They seem to be under the impression that they have the right of way, but they don’t.

It’s behavior that defies logic.

Photo showing a road signal sensor

A road signal sensor. Although it’s clearly visible, I’ve added yellow arrows to make it really, really clear. Your car must be on top of it in order to activate it.

The one that really baffles me, though, is how so many North Texas residents don’t seem to know: 1) what a signal sensor is, 2) what one looks like, 3) where it is located, and 4) how to activate it.

People here have a weird habit of stopping waaaaaay before the white line at a signal — I’m talking full car lengths. The only explanation I can come up with is that they haven’t mastered the concept of depth perception, and must think that as soon as you see the white line on the road appear to touch your front bumper, you must actually be on top of it.

Frequently, I’ll pull up to a red light where there’s already a car stopped in the adjacent lane, sitting so far back that, by the time I come to a complete stop, they’re behind me. I always wonder, “What would this person have done if no one else came along to trip the signal for them? Would they keep sitting there, confused as to why the light never turns green?” Then I remember this is Texas, and that the driver would have eventually gotten tired of waiting and simply run the red light. Afraid to stop near the intersection, but fearless to plow through it, even in the face of opposing traffic. It’s logic the writers of Green Acres could have had a field day with.

Image of Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in "Green Acres."I once witnessed a car waiting at a stop light, not on the sensor. The driver sat for at least five minutes before making a right turn, a sudden U-turn, and another immediate right, thereby crossing the intersection. The craftiness of her solution confirmed my suspicion — she had no idea what a signal sensor is, what one looks like, where it’s located, or what she needed to do in order to activate it.

How did she manage to make it safely to adulthood?

Maybe if the writers of Dallas had included a few typical DFW driving scenarios in the show that ended with the offenders incurring the wrath of J.R., Metroplex drivers would have learned a valuable life skill. We know more people watched “Dallas” than paid attention in driver’s ed. Now that I think of it, radical notions like “drunk driving isn’t smart” and “hitting a person and fleeing the scene is bad” could have probably been more effectively taught through inclusion on popular television shows than through whatever other method they were disseminated.

Larry Hagman managed to live to 81 without being killed by a Dallas driver, which is no small feat. But he’s the lucky one, regardless. He’s dead. I’m still trying to get out of Texas in one piece.

Until then, I’ll comfort myself with daydreams of a world in which tire spikes cover the road where a lane begins to end, and pop-up spikes rise up from beneath the street when someone is about to run a red light or a stop sign. Where vehicle engines stall when a driver gets too close to a squirrel, toad or other living creature.

I’ve got tons of great ideas. Someday, when I’m governor. . . .


UPDATE: March 18, 2014

Just in case you thought I was exaggerating.
http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2014/03/eastbound-lbj-freeway-closed-at-skilllman-backing-up-traffic-past-the-high-five.html/

Photo of all hell breaking loose on I-635 in Dallas

This is really happening right now: March 18, 2014.

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – All of the eastbound lanes of Interstate 635 were at a complete stop Tuesday afternoon as members of the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire Rescue worked a major accident near Audelia.

The initial incident involved a vehicle that had flipped over.

The rubbernecking and frustration resulted in two more accidents on 635. There was one crash on the eastbound side near Abrams Road and another on the westbound side, near Forest Lane.

The situation then went from bad to worse when dozens of drivers decided the best course of action was to turn around and try to drive the wrong way on the highway.

Members of Dallas police actually walked out onto the roadway, tapped on windows, instructed drivers to turn around and guided the vehicles around them so as to clear up the very strange bottleneck.

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