It is incumbent upon any honest journalist to admit he erred, so here's my mea culpa (Latin for "get off my back, already"), A few years ago I wrote some genial twaddle about the proper way to merge on the highway, and it turns out this topic was slightly less controversial than "is Sarah Palin obligated to come to a full stop at a red light on a bike en route to support a taxpayer-funded stadium?" People have opinions. There are two ways to do it: Everyone can merge waaay back and form a single file, or form two lines where the lane ends, and take turns getting into the single lane. (I did not discuss the third option, which is blowing through the closed lane because you're texting and didn't notice 6 miles of orange cones.) I chose the merge-way-back option. Reasons:
It's infuriating to get in the proper lane and poke along for 2 miles at 3 miles per hour while cars hurtle past to the head of the line and elbow their way in through brute force. It's like there are two lanes: SAPS and EAST COAST DRIVERS.
Relying on the goodwill of other drivers to let you in at the choke point is dicey, since half queued up 6 miles back and nossirree, no johnny-come-lately's gonna barge in front of me. They stare ahead with a steely determination previously reserved for the guy with the ABSOLUTE DESPERATION sign at the off-ramp, who also does not exist, or whose existence can be justifiably ignored because all of a sudden you have to look at the radio to adjust the volume. There's a fellow on the news talking about events in Ghana, and you're the sort of person who likes to keep up on things.
If you shove in at the end at the choke point and wave your thanks, people still stare hot rivets of hate at the back of your head. They don't understand the exculpatory power of the Wave anymore. The rule of the Wave is simple: I may have just cut you off, forced you to brake so hard the logo on the steering column is now imprinted on your sternum, but if I wave, it's all OK. This does not work in any other line. Cut in a movie queue, throw up a hand: doesn't work. "Merge" in the grocery store checkout line with your cart, give the person behind you the back of your hand: you get a tomato in the back of the head. But when someone cuts you off in traffic, the Wave has the emollient quality of a papal blessing.
Now MnDOT apparently felt compelled to clarify the matter, since a statement of the Official Position popped up in my online news streams. The commandment: Thou Shalt Form Two Lines and Merge at the Apex. Or, as they call it, the Zipper. They have science on their side, too. It's more efficient for everyone to merge at the choke point than engage in random, individual merges down the line, which herky-jerks the line for everyone. This I grant. But this approach is more efficient only if everyone does it, which will never happen. There's a certain stolid, careful type of Minnesotan who learns that a lane will soon be gone, and he gets out of that lane, just as he got out of tech stocks in 1999. When he gets to the merge point he will not yield. Thought that lane would be there forever, eh, kid? It's a foretaste of Social Security when you're my age, pup.
Some people will have a dread of being the rude late barger and feel guilty driving past the long line to get to the merge point. Such a person frets: "This isn't right. This is like the time I passed someone using the Diamond Lane, or had 11 items in the grocery store express lane. On such small matters the nature of a civil society rises or falls; if we fail to police ourselves in the tiny things, we learn to overlook our larger failings. The character of the average citizen declines; the nation rots from within; Rome falls. Darkness bestrides the world. On the other hand, I'm late, so whatever."
The Zipper will work only if it's the law, and large orange signs blare the fine for doing otherwise. Until then, realize that people who zoom past a mile of slow-moving cars to cut in at the last moment are MnDOT-approved, scientifically verified rational drivers. Or selfish jerks. Depends if it's you or not.