A Trucker’s Blinking Brake Lights

truck on the highway in the rainBy Kim Fernandez

Maryland’s  I-270 south splits about a mile before it ends, forcing drivers to choose which way they’ll travel around the Washington, D.C. Beltway: right for Virginia and left for Maryland. It’s the main commuting route for people who live in the outer, northwest suburbs of Washington, D.C., and with both HOV and express/local lanes in play before that split, isn’t the most fun road to drive in the morning rush–it’s even less fun in the rain.

It’s also the way home from my preferred grocery store, which is where I’d been when I found myself next to a loaded tractor-trailer whose driver wasn’t familiar with that split very early on a recent cold, grey, rainy morning.

As with many other things, drivers in the D.C. area can interpret late lane changes as a competitive thing and it’s not always easy–or possible–to make it over gracefully, especially during rush hour when we’re all crankier than normal. But there wasn’t anyone close to my back bumper when the trucker realized his lane mistake and flipped on his signal, and the song on the radio had me contemplating the state of the world anyway (it’s worth the click), so I slowed down to make room and flashed my high-beams twice. Come on over. The truck slipped into the space ahead of me and then its brake lights blinked–once, twice, three times. Thank you.

The whole exchange probably took less than 30 seconds and I never saw the trucker’s face, but it felt very human in this time when not much does, and kicked off my morning with a reminder that tiny gestures still mean a lot, especially when things are weird and distanced. Those quick, flashing brake lights gave me a smile and changed my day. Totally worth it.

Kim Fernandez is IPMI’s director of publications.