I dread four-way stops; those tricky intersections where four drivers, each of them manning several tons of metal, fuel, and cheap plastic, warily eye each other as they wonder which car goes first. There is no traffic cop, referee, or Saint Christopher (not since his demotion anyway) to negotiate the subtle baile of you go, then you go, then I go, then you go cumbia that challenges even veteran drivers.
What was that rule from Drivers Ed? The driver to the right goes first? No, the driver to the left, or perhaps the driver born under a full moon during a vernal equinox eclipse when the tide is out?
The four-way stop is the dinosaur of the driving world, surviving somehow in this brave new mundo of eye-in-the-sky helicopter surveillance, ticket-dispensing traffic cams, and Terminator-style highway-patrol laser guns that fry speeders with a chilling pinpoint accuracy that’s hard to beat in traffic court.
Despite the tecnología, the four-way stop lingers on; a low-tech Brontosaurus that requires no computer power, electricidad, or even a couple of generic AAA batteries to do its trabajo.
As I drive away from the intersección unharmed, unscratched, and intacto, I wipe my sweaty brow, unglue my trembling manos from the steering wheel, and marvel at the spontaneous, effective, and, albeit sometimes enforced, diplomacy of the four-way stop.
Behind the wheel, we are four separate nations pondering each other’s next movida with no need of U.N. peacekeeping troops or our Mami’s to scold the other drivers with a smiling, rolling pin of a threat, “Ay mira, mijo has to be at work on time so por favor let him go primero, okay?”
You go, then I go, then you go, then you go. When it works, it’s the perfect blueprint for group sex. Everyone takes turns pleasing everyone else; everyone goes home with a smile on their face.
El four-way stop samba shimmies on; unplugged, off-line, yet on the job.
On occasion, there is that loco o loca, a terrorist of traffic, who breaks four-way stop etiquette and barrels through leaving the rest of us to curse/laugh/cringe at their pendejadas. But, most of us cooperate and successfully perform the yougoIgoyougoyougo salsa and get on with running our individual naciones.
Several countries locked in a conflict that threatens to blow up into Armadeggon?
Put each of those nation’s jefes behind the wheel of a car, let them pull up to a four-way stop and make them work out their issues with the timeless you go then I go then you go then you go waltz.
If a seventeen-year-old high school student can do it, so can they.
However, those self-important cacas grandes may throw up their hands en frustración, abandon their cars and duke it out on the side of the camino with air strikes, ambushes, and threats of nuclear war. Every single day, we show them it’s possible to pull up to a four-way stop and work it all out among ourselves.
Pero, should you one day glide up to a four-way stop and see cars careening through the intersection, ramming into each other; turning the street into a crunching, grinding, gladiatorial arena, then all is lost.
If respeto for el four-way stop fails then the world has lost its mind.
Leave your car where it is and hop the next interplanetary shuttle to another solar system.
Don’t think dos veces. Don’t pack a suitcase. Don’t check to make sure you turned off the pot of cafè.
Move to another planeta but before you settle in ask your green, six-eyed neighbor, “In your language how do you say, ‘you go then I go then you go then you go?”
Mario is the author of The Chalupa Rules: A Latino Guide to Gringolandia.
Chalupa Rule no. 13
So goes the four-way stop;
so goes the world.
Como vá el four-way stop;
así va el mundo.