HTT: How To Round-A-Bout

Photo by Jeroen Komen
The first time I was ever introduced to a Round-A-Bout, was, and I'm not kidding about this, in a music theory class in college.

The teacher, and I'm not kidding about this either, was named Mr. Delbert Bump, and he had a thing for tangents.

I think, but I'm not sure, that we were learning about key changes and passing tones.

Passing tones are the notes between chords that help signal change of some sort.

In simple theory, chords are hit on the One and Three beats, while the passing tones are hit on the Two and Four.

Which . . . if you stop to think about it . . . might lend itself really easily to a monologue about why white people can't dance (they're always pulsing on the One and Three and no where near the Two and Four they should be pulsing at) . . . but with a background in diversity . . . Mr. Delbert Bump went from passing tones to round-a-bouts.

He told us about intersections in England where you can only make right hand turns (actually . . . left hand turns . . . since that's the direction they drive.)

He marveled at how smart that was.

I marveled at it too.

I hate making left hand turns.

I hate making left hand turns so much sometimes I'd rather make three right hand turns first.

Always add twenty minutes of travel time if you're riding with me in San Francisco.

It may have been a decade later when I got introduced to my first round-a-bout. My dad and I were traveling to Aspen for a Rugby tournament and after a long drive through the windy mountains, we came across a round-a-bout.

Let's just say . . . I was not prepared.

This was a big one too . . . like three lanes wide . . . 100 yards in diameter . . . haunted.

Now . . . however . . . thanks to some calm directions from my dad . . . who had clearly seen one before . . . we were able to make our way through it with zero fuss and didn't miss a single turn.


It could've gone much much much much worse.

It was my impression that round-a-bouts were not a good thing.

And if someone was so stupid as to build one they should put up a big billboard sized sign that says: 

Round-A-Bout Coming . . . Things Are Gonna Get Weird . . . Slow Down.

And then I forgot all about them.

For a year or two.

I listen to talk radio a lot . . . for whatever reason . . . and I heard an interview with a guy who designs  roads and highways and byways and parking lots.

I'm sure that that sounds like the least cool guest ever . . . but how many times in your life have you spent hating the person who designed a particular intersection? How many times have you sworn that you were going to find the guy who built a particular parking lot and kick him right in the nuts?

Or if he turned out to be a girl . . . punch her right in the boob?

So yeah . . . I was captivated . . . I think it was one of those interviews where I get home and sit in my car in my driveway for twenty minutes so I can hear the rest of it.

Anyway, the guy was talking about intersection safety.

It turns out that when two single lane roads cross, in a standard american intersection, there are something like 18 particular points of potential impact.

In a round-a-bout . . . there are 4.

That makes a round-a-bout much much much much safer than your average intersection.

Though that might be hard to believe if you are as familiar with them as I was in Aspen.

Anyway, it seemed like twenty minutes after I finished the interview, the construction guys down the street were putting in a round-a-bout on the main road to my house. Things happen for a reason.

That particular street was the only way in or out of my particular neighborhood . . . so my wife and I round-a-bouted a lot.

Here's what you need to know about round-a-bouts:

The car IN the circle has the right of way. As you approach, slow down. You only have to look in one direction because there are no cars coming the other way. Wait your turn. Merge in. Circle around until you have clear shot at your exit.

It's not intuitive, but once you get the hang of it . . . it's pretty neat.

A few years later they installed a second road with no round-a-bouts.

We called it our escape route.

The first road happened to go through an outdoor mall, while our escape route passed by a rock factory.

Needless to say, not much traffic at the rock factory . . . hence the term Escape Route.

My wife will avoid the main road at all costs.

It's not that she's afraid of the round-a-bouts . . . she's an exceptional driver . . . but she is full blooded Italian and grew up in Long Island and is afraid that if a stupid person catches her on a bad hair day she's likely to take them out.

She's been in California for over twenty years and is still frustrated by the "Right of Way" laws.

On the flip side . . . I actually love the round-a-bouts.

Even when I'm in a shitty mood.

I like watching it work when everyone knows what they're doing, and I like to see what happens when someone clearly doesn't know the rules, and I like to yell foul things at people for being obvious jerks.

Watching a round-a-bout is like watching humanity in action.

It's a metaphor the human experience.

And yes . . . I do think there should be a sign before life begins that says:

Life Coming . . . Things Are Gonna Get Weird . . . Slow Down.

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