On the Road

Commuting to and from work is fun.  Said no one, ever.  We share the road with many drivers, each one completely unique and apparently, as I have come to find out, following their own set of traffic laws.  As a frequent traveler on a major highway system in my state, I am amazed at how my mere presence on an entrance ramp has a magical effect on the flow of traffic.  A car that was previously more than half a mile away in the middle lane spots me and speeds up, moving over to the lane I need, and cuts me off…or worse, keeps time with me so that I can’t get over.  This dastardly deed is known as “Don’t Let Him Over” and the game begins as soon as a trailing car sees your turn signal, indicating politely that you’d like to be somewhere else, anywhere else, really, as long as it is away from the grandmother doing 25 mph in the fast lane.

There was obviously a law passed about this, requiring you to speed up no matter how far away the car wishing to slide over and merge actually is.  The memo never reached me, though, and I continue to think there are nice drivers left out there.  Somewhere. Obviously far, far away. It could be that my language in traffic is too brutal for the delicate souls driving around me, so they purposefully excluded me from the mass mailings.  Sadly, this only increases my tirades and antics; not knowing the rules of the game, I’m run up onto the shoulder of the entrance ramp.  My oversized sunglasses hide my identity, though, and in my car I’m free to call you whatever I want. Sort of like those extreme-right trolls on Facebook.

Karma is sweet though, when I am cut off by someone speeding towards the light, only to be caught next to me in its web of eternal redness…that just makes my day. Yes, I know, obviously I live a pathetic existence for this to humor me as much as it does, but I try to get amusement when and where I can.  These people will always find a reason to fiddle with their radio, adjust their visors, or do anything that allows them to not make eye contact with my triumphant face as we sit in what, for them, has become the world’s longest light.

My personal favorite are the ones sitting, waiting to make a turn into my lane, seeing my lone car coming with no one else behind me or around me, only to turn directly in front of me …sometimes waiting — no, usually waiting, until I’m right up on them to do so.  The unwritten law here is that they must go no faster than 20 mph when they accomplish their feat.

Motorcyclists have laws all of their own.  I do love being on the back of a motorcycle, though I have never learned to drive one myself.  There is definitely something exhilarating about the freedom of being precariously perched on a motorized bicycle without the added security of metal surrounding you.  Every wheeled mode of transportation is supposed to adhere to the written laws of the road, from horse and buggy to tractor trailers.  Except, evidently, motorcyclists (okay fine, most some not all).  I have heard the announcements and I’ve seen the multitude of signs posted about looking twice and sharing the road with motorcycles, and I am saddened by accidents that are usually pretty brutal when a motorcyclist is involved.  That said, motorcyclists need to remember that they are not superheroes, impervious to the laws of nature, God, and man.  I see them riding down the white lines of the road, hurtling through time and space at the speed of sound, barely missing the mirrors on the sides of the cars they squeeze between as they seek to show off avoid the traffic jam the rest of us are just so deliriously happy to be sitting in.  I am not sure it was ever made clear to them that white lines are not designated motorcycle paths.  All joking aside, despite the immediate frustration that arises when I see these insane antics, I can’t help but cringe thinking of what might await them…and those they’re cutting off, down the road, and I keep my fingers crossed they make it home in one piece.

I hate driving … it’s a necessary evil. If I ever when I win the mega-million jackpot, the first thing I will do is get a driver on retainer. I mean, honestly, I have enough to worry about every day without trying to understand the unwritten games and laws that apparently govern our roads.  Most days, I am damned lucky I found the keys to my car to begin with.

Reflections of the Road

Mankind has invented many horrendous torture devices throughout his stay on this earth.  A few that come to mind are those virtually invisible Bluetooth phone earpieces that cause you to assume the user is talking to you but of course they’re not – only you don’t realize this until after you’ve already held a 5 minute conversation with yourself, those automated voice response systems on help lines that force you to say words until you are screaming at a robot which only makes things worse…both for your self-esteem and getting the department you so desperately need which is why you called in the first place, and self-checkout lanes with overly sensitive scales that proudly announce to everyone that you have an unexpected item in the bagging area…a dozen times.

No other device, however, can cause as much horror, anger, embarrassment, and fear as a car horn in a traffic jam. I. Hate. Car. Horns.

The victim of the car horn is usually some unsuspecting person who ended up on the wrong side of a red light, trapped in an intersection with nowhere to go while the traffic he is blocking begins playing the well-known symphony, “The Cacophony of Horns,” on their steering wheels.  The victim has few options and can either respond with the “embarrassed grimace, hands thrown up in helplessness” ploy or the famous “I need to change my radio station right now for the next five minutes while pretending I can’t hear you” trick. And it’s not as if the hapless victim wants to be doing what he’s doing…he doesn’t want to be there either.

The other day found me in a particularly crowded shopping district.  Things were rolling pretty smoothly and I could see the lights lining up in perfect harmonious greenness.  Gotta love it when small miracles happen.  Imagine my surprise when, instead of rolling through this rare alignment of roadway perfection, I found myself reading the bumper stickers on the car in front of me as we all sat at a complete stop.

From where I was sitting, I could see the green light in front of me. There was more than enough time for the cars to siphon through.  The light just beyond my own, the next one in line that you might think would be holding up traffic, was also green, and still we sat.  It really only ever takes one person to wreck your traffic day, and I am sure there was someone daydreaming of God knows what behind the wheel or more likely, talking on their cell phone that was snarling the smooth flow of cars.  The sea of cars stretched through the intersection creating a virtual parking lot at a line of green lights.

I can easily imagine the actions of the drivers in the middle when the inevitable happened and the light turned yellow.  First, they threw their hands up and made a show of yelling something at the cars in front of them. They exaggeratedly leaned over to peer up at the now yellow light, and then to their companion, if they had one, with a show of complete exasperation.  The light turned red, as yellow lights do, and now they were stuck.

These hapless drivers were now in the Traffic Trap of Doom.  Packed in tight, they couldn’t pull to the side, they couldn’t move forward, and backing up was not an option.

The drivers who were trying to cross the road to get to the shopping center on the other side (a joke about a chicken comes to mind, but I digress) take this as a personal assault on their driving freedoms.  The rally cry of “Let’s wait patiently for the light to turn green so the traffic jam can clear up” rang forth.  Ok, not hardly. Wait for the light to change?  Who has time for that?

The honking started innocently, as it always does.  A single frustrated tap from an unknown car to the left.  Like a wolf pack on the prowl, that honk was taken up by another driver.  And another.  And another.  Soon, the symphony lifted to the sky and magically, nothing happened.

Not a thing.  Despite their best attempts, traffic was still sitting exactly where it was before they started their raucous assault on those of us with ears.  The hard lesson learned this day was that a car horn does not summon a traffic fairy to come lift cars out of the way, no matter how loud and long you blare it.  Did the honkers expect that their efforts would somehow create an opening, like Moses parting the Red Sea?  The only thing these frustrated drivers accomplished was to give everyone a headache.

The victims in the Traffic Trap of Doom continued to pretend they couldn’t hear the honking, cheeks flushed with embarrassment, silent prayers lifted to the traffic light gods that the light would change soon and their five minutes of fame would be over.

Normally I would be just as frustrated as the next person to see a blocked intersection, but in this case, I could see from my position that there was no way the stuck drivers should have expected the cars ahead at the first green light to just stop.  It wasn’t a matter of mistimed lights or people pushing to get through a yellow light. They saw the alluring vision of two green lights ahead and assumed they would shortly be moving forward, flowing as smoothly as the rum they would later be pouring into their coffee as they retold the harrowing experience to their family later that night.  It’s a natural assumption.

Who knew a distracted driver could back traffic up into the next state just by glancing at Map Quest or porn or whatever it was he was doing up there?

Of course, it didn’t stay backed up for long.  The distracted driver got his shit together, and life resumed normally for all involved.

The horn blowers duly patted themselves on the back for the role they played this day; for without them, however would we have survived?

Well played, anonymous horn blowers.  Well played.  We thank you.