My Latest Traffic Jam Experience
by Keith Yancy
An hour and 40 minutes.
Not long ago, on an average, not particularly interesting weekday morning, it took me an hour and 40 minutes to get to work. Traffic jams going to work are worse than the ones going home — at least after work, you can relax when you get home (eventually). But traffic jams heading to the office are like running 10 miles to get to the starting line of a marathon: you’re already stressed, annoyed, and late by the time you get to work, and then you wind up being annoyed, late and stressed on top of that throughout the day.
The trip began both good and bad, for the same reason: it was a bright, sunny morning. So, while it might be nice and pleasant to drive in the sunshine, veteran rush-hour drivers know that this is often worse than rain — if you’re driving east. Which I do, every morning. And, as usual, I’ve misplaced my sunglasses, which means I’m squinting for the first 15 minutes of my drive.
That morning, a lot of other drivers seem to have forgotten their sunglasses, because everyone seemed to be squinting and driving at least 15 miles per hour below the speed limit. What’s worse, my eyes (for reasons I don’t quite understand) water profusely when I squint, which means I was constantly wiping tears off my face as I crawled through traffic. While this might be embarrassing anywhere else, I didn’t get too worked up about this, as I’ve seen enough make-up appliers, nose and teeth pickers, and singing, dancing and flailing other drivers to not have much inhibitions about the tears streaming down my face.
Finally, I got to the point in my drive where I travel north… after waiting at a light for a good 7 minutes. This is because the line of cars is so long, I got to watch it cycle between green, yellow and red at least 5 times before I going through it. This experience was brought to us, in part, by one confused/distracted driver who somehow forgot to go when the light turned green (despite the horns of people behind him), making all of us wait until — as the light turned from yellow to red — he woke from his stupor and stomped on his accelerator to get through the light. Hey, thanks for that!
I’d hoped that I could make up time going north, but in just 30 seconds, I realize that I’m doomed. Northbound traffic was WORSE than it was going eastbound, with a sea of cars and brake lights in front of me. Despite the fact that no one is moving, a cop sat in his patrol car, radar gun to his eye, checking for speeders. Speeders? Not a single car across four lanes was going faster than 5 miles per hour, but Mr. Policeman refused to see what everyone else already knew — no one was going anywhere. After a while, I suspected he stayed there checking for speeders because he was too embarrassed to put down his radar gun and admit he looked ridiculous.
The reason we were all going five miles an hour becomes obvious after another 10 minutes — the streetlights at a still far-off intersection weren’t working. While Mr. Cop back there was checking bumper-to-bumper traffic for speeders, there wasn’t a cop in sight at this intersection, nor at the next two intersections, which didn’t have working traffic signals either. It’s complete chaos, as no one bothered to take turns, and people edged into traffic further and further until they eventually bully their way through the intersection.
As I tried to inch my way through all that mess, I had plenty of time to observe the scenery. Lots of empty storefronts, run down buildings, and a woman who was walking down the street VERY SLOWLY, wearing a hunter’s orange sweat suit. As I wondered why anyone would intentionally wear a hunter’s orange sweat suit, she turned her head and spat toward the road. Judging by the volume and consistency of what she spits out, she apparently has a very bad cold. She uses her sleeve to clean up her face. Nice.
By this point, I was past the 50-minute mark of my drive, and I was considering calling ahead to warn my co-workers of my lateness when another pedestrian caught my attention. It’s a young African-American guy, maybe 20, dressed neatly but casually. He was, with great accuracy and enthusiasm, goose-stepping down the sidewalk, arm raised as if he were performing a Nazi salute to the standing traffic. It occurred to me that I’d never seen an African-American performing any sort of Nazi impersonation before. Despite the fact that he seemed very serious — he even looked angry — he followed up his goose-step march by doing not one but two cartwheels before standing straight and motionless, facing traffic.
A few minutes after I left Mr. Goose Step behind, and over an hour and 10 minutes into my drive, I noticed the radio playing a steady stream of “male enhancement” ads. I listen to two of them before I turn it off, and the only reason I do is because both ads rattle off a laundry list of symptoms: Are you losing your muscle mass? Do you have belly fat? Feeling tired? Losing your hair? Not EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO BE in the bedroom? YOU COULD HAVE LOW TESTOSTERONE!!! They promised that, if I take their product, I’ll re-discover what it’s like to be a man again. Sort of tempting.
I spent the last half hour with the radio off, considering what the effects of testosterone supplements would be for me. All of those things sounded pretty good, but I got an image of me sprouting hair everywhere on my body and flying into a rage whenever I’m stuck in traffic, and I decided that some of the “symptoms” they want to cure are just part of middle age.
I finally get to work, where I was forced to park a good quarter-mile from the building because all the closer parking spots are taken. (That gave me something to grumble about during the walk in.) I tried sneaking into the office, but I was quickly spotted by some co-workers, several of whom promptly and very sarcastically thanked me for showing up. I’m also informed (much to their enjoyment) that the two meetings I missed because of the traffic have been re-scheduled at the end of the day. Sigh.
Anyhow, while I’ve been in a lot of traffic jams in my lifetime (including rush hour in New York, Mexico City and Los Angeles), this latest one was unique. If nothing else, I’ll make sure to bring my sunglasses.
Until next time… :)