Here in Santa Fe, the green arrow is second only to the standard-issue Subaru wagon in its everywhere, all the time, every lane ubiquity. This handy-dandy arrow makes for a delightful accessory to the otherwise angsty intersection, rendering the left-hand turn allegedly effortless, ostensibly anxiety-free.
The old-school, unarrowed left turn required the driver to engage a complicated string of on-the-fly algorithms: gauging the distance of the oncoming car; multiplied by its approximate speed; divided by the response time of his or her own foot on his or her own accelerator; factored by the angle of the turn and the unknown backward ticking seconds left on the green light, or maybe—dare to dream—the yellow. The green arrow strips us of the weighty responsibility of so many split-second calculations. It saves us from our flawed instincts, subpar math skills and lackluster eye-hand coordination. The arrow promises protected passage through the dangerous, dare I say terrorizing intersection, safely guiding us to our perpendicular trajectory.
The green arrow is the Homeland Security of traffic signals.
Just as I’m not buying into the value, necessity or fake authority of the TSA minions who consistently peg my hair gel and alkaline water as explosive devices when I’m flying within these well-guarded contiguous states, I’m starting to doubt the efficacy of the green arrow. Having sat through many a regular ol’ arrow-free green light, behind one of those aforementioned Subarus whose driver neglects to make the left turn for which he isn’t actually signaling, I’ve come to loathe the arrow.
True, it’s my assumption, and thus my proverbial “bad,” to project my own left-leaning intentions onto the dented ’Ru in front of me, but as he’s in the far-most left-hand lane, the one facing oncoming cars poised for their own lefts, I can only imagine that he shares my leftward aspirations. Instead, though, he throws me a curveball and doesn’t turn left, but rather idles behind the crosswalk, ticking off the seconds as the light turns yellow, then red, and we haven’t moved at all.
I equate the lefty arrow with gifting a grade-schooler a calculator. Sure, it’s a quick and nifty way to race through quizzes and homework and skate by with grades unearned for lessons never learned, but when said grade-schooler grows up and is faced with the complicated task of computing the gratuity on a $64 check or figuring out how many stitches to cast on for a 7-inch scarf knit on 11-gauge needles, she’s screwed, and she freezes.
Just like that driver I’m stuck behind, itching to turn onto Baca Street.
My boyfriend—tired of watching me freak out behind every apparent left-turning driver who instead chooses to sit through yet another perfectly green light, behind the crosswalk (such that, even if he did opt to gun it at the last minute and peel a surprise left through the yellow, there’d be no way for me to follow suit)—suggests that perhaps it’s a safety thing, that all these Subarus are skipping out on perfectly legal lefts in honor of some imaginary idea of safety they’ve come to associate with not turning unless an arrow tells them to. I ponder this, breathing into my frustration and trying to reframe Santa Fe drivers—the ones who ride my ass around every blind curve the whole treacherous way up Hyde Park Road to the Big Tesuque trail, tailgating the entire length of that winding, narrow road lined with so many heartbreaking makeshift altars to so much “collateral damage”—as cautious drivers who opt out of perfectly legal left-turn opportunities because they’re concerned with safety.
I’m not buying it.
Because aside from the regional ritual of bumper sniffing, there are the testosterone-fueled pickup trucks driven with angry knuckles and plump, tatted biceps that opt to merge into my lane when it’s nowhere near safe. And it’s not because they were texting or spacing out. It’s because they’re angry and disempowered and, in the moment at least, feel big and strong and awesome while sauntering into my lane, forcing me to slam on my brakes and splatter yerba mate all over the roof of my (boyfriend’s) own Subaru. Damp and livid, I talk myself down from my kneejerk rage-a-thon by reminding myself that it wasn’t personal, that we’re all doing the best we can and that everything is perfect.
Here’s the thing, folks: It’s legal to turn left on a regular old green light, and it’s even safe, especially when we pull into the intersection beforehand. It’s not just legal and safe; it’s also polite—because when we pull forward, we allow the cars behind us to share the light, and thus share the left.
And sharing is caring, and caring is cool.