Newsweek put Yuppies on its year-end cover. Time picked Peter Ueberroth as its Man of the Year. We -- you, really -- chose somebody else.
Loyal readers of this space -- Letters to the Editor -- will know that neither Yuppies nor Mr. Ueberroth nor even Ronald Reagan can compete for the Story of the Year. According to those who wrote us -- and we heard from as many as 1,000 correspondents a week -- the story of 1984 was . . . well, to be perfectly fair, we'd have to call it The Commuter.
The Commuter is the rather dull composite of the much more fascinating and famous travelers whom letter writers have called by various names, none of them nice -- from the "left- lane bandit" to the "red-light runner," to the "arrogant cyclist."
In the past 12 months, rarely has there been a day without a letter complaining, commending or otherwise commenting on some aspect of transportation -- Metrorail, Metrobus, Farecards, Whitehurst Freeway, the Scatter Plan, the Beltway, I-270, the Dulles Toll Road, airbags. But few have so inspired correspondents as the left-lane bandit, the red-light runner and the arrogant cyclist, The Post Letter Writers' People of the Year.
On Jan. 7, 1984, Philip W. Markley of Falls Church wrote to say that right-turn-on-red "may long have worked in the West, but here in the East it has been perceived simply as a further weakening of authority, a further signal from society that anything goes. . . ." And with that, the correspondence on red lights took off, moving quickly from red-light turns to red- light runners to traffic-light chaos in the District. Wrote Nanine F. Rogers in May, "This city is plagued by an intensely annoying disease: unsynchronized traffic lights." Said Sandylee Maccoby, "Driving a car in Washington has increasingly become an exercise in forebearance."
The "arrogant cyclist" is part of the problem evidently. Todd Boley opened this discussion with his letter May 19. "I am greatly concerned about the ever-increasing number of cyclists who ride on the sidewalk of Massachusetts Avenue as though it were the Indianapolis speedway," he wrote. The cyclists, a lobby not to be underestimated in this town, wrote back, citing Department of Transportation rules and regulations, official codes of conduct and the benefits of the sport to body, mind and soul. Lately, the cyclist/anti-cyclist debate was revived by Curt Barker, who wrote Dec. 20 to say "the lack of bike lanes in the Washington area, as lamentable as it is, does not justify or even excuse (the) atrocious and potentially dangerous behavior on the part of so many cyclists." The replies came pouring in.
But the red-light runner and the arrogant cyclist, famous though they have become in this space, pale beside the "left-lane bandit," Gilbert R. Reed III's name for the people who "get on the highway, move left into the passing lane and stay there." Mr. Reed's comment Sept. 22 touched off some polite rebuttals, and then, on Oct. 1, John O. Nestor of Arlington wrote to say, "On divided highways I drive in the left lane with my cruise control set at the speed limit of 55 miles per hour because it is usually the smoothest lane. I avoid slower traffic coming in and out from the right, and I avoid resetting the cruise control with every lane change. Why should I inconvenience myself for someone who wants to speed?"
Those words -- not any by Ronald Reagan, Jesse Jackson, Geraldine Ferraro, Louis Farrakhan, Walter Mondale, Bishop Tutu or any other 1984 presumptive newsmaker -- provoked more letters than just about anything else in 1984. "Nestoring" became, for a time anyway, the letter writers' topic of choice. We hadn't seen such a protracted correspondence since 1983, after George F. Will said something about Welsh rarebit -- or was it rabbit? -- beginning an epistolary extravaganza on that cheese dish.
Occasionally we receive an admonition, which runs something like this: "With so many more important things going on in the world, why did you devote so much space to the left-lane bandit?" We can only answer that the mail is always surprising and wonderfully quirky. It sometimes bears a noticeable relation to what appears on the front page. Sometimes it does not. Why left-lane bandits inspired so many to take up a pen and compose a letter is a question better left to the psychologists or the philosophers -- or you. Don't forget to write.