This morning I found myself in need of a term that defined the stereotypical Los Angeles motorist at rush hour, that driver who becomes so frustrated with the stop-and-go that he stomps down on the accelerator, rips up a dusty shoulder and squeals into some quiet neighborhood.
When nothing came to mind I Googled and found not only a term, but an entire Wikipedia definition complete with details of an ethical debate about such behavior ...
There's just one problem.
Does anybody in LA ever use the term "rat running?"
Wikipedia calls it "a controversial practice" and says "some motorists, as common courtesy, have admitted to refraining from rat running in support of their beliefs." There are even laws against it in some states.
This must be an East coast thing.
Despite more than 10 years of rush hour experience in LA, this is the first time I've ever heard of "rat running."
Not that we don't do it. Los Angeles has got to be the world headquarters of rat running. And that term, "rat running." It's perfect, so compact, the most beautiful term I've learned in years, but I can't use it if no one's heard about it.
So, writing about it here is my way of joining the effort (I hope there's an effort) to help inject the term into the vernacular, all for the very selfish reason that I want to use it in my book and can hear a publisher's reaction in my head: "What the hell is a 'rat runner?'"
Here's what Wikipedia says:
A rat run is a colloquial term for a short cut or detour taken by a motorist, usually on residential side street in an urban or suburban area, in order to avoid the heavy traffic or lengthy traffic signals on a congested main route. Rat runs are frequently taken by drivers who are familiar with the local geography. They will often take such short cuts to avoid busy main roads and junctions, even at the expense (or in spite of) having to negotiate traffic calming measures that may be in place to discourage them..
The associations with "beating the crowd", the rush hour, and the rat race likely gave rise to the term. However, it literally derives from the habit of rats in finding and maintaining covert foraging routes.