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Traffic jams

On the way to the Cities last week, traffic I-94 slowed to a halt right near Monticello. Stop and go, stop and go. If my lane stopped and I slid into the next, that lane would stop and my old lane would move forward.

Frustrating. I felt like a caged animal.

Most people in the cars surrounding me seemed to accept their lot. Down went the windows, back went the sunroof and on came the tunes. It was a beautiful afternoon and they seemed to enjoy it.

Not so with me. I am used to cruising in the countryside where the distances are long but traffic is nil. Getting caught in a traffic jam drives me nuts.

The most irritating: You can't opt out. If traffic has stopped, nine times out of ten you just have to sit there and wait. You can't turn around. You can't take an exit. You are trapped.

I find it difficult to accept things I cannot escape. That's why I sit in the back row at concerts, seminars, weddings and funerals. I want to be able to leave early if I've had enough.

Another traffic jam irritation: Drivers who don't obey the basic rules of civilization, like taking turns.

There's always a few drivers who think they're special and race along the shoulder past about a thousand cars and then when they get up to the front they expect somebody to let them merge in.

Oh, what I would give to have a water balloon to toss through the sunroof of those cars.

Believe me, I understand road rage. I'll never act on it, but I spend the entire traffic jam plotting revenge against those who think they're exempt from the rules they should have learned in kindergarten.

Once traffic moves again, my anger usually subsides and I am no longer a danger to society.

Last week, however, when I arrived at the cause of the traffic jam, I just got angrier.

Eight construction workers in day-glow green vests stood in a group laughing and smoking while a ninth man pushed a little gravel around in the left lane with a skid steer loader.

That was all they were doing!

For that, we had to merge down to one lane. For that, hundreds, probably thousands of people lost an hour of their day.

It took me forty miles and a lot of loud music to cool off from that one.

Two days later, according to the paper, a semi loaded with 40,000 lbs. of fish parts overturned at about the same spot.

Now, there's a legitimate reason for a traffic jam. If I waited an hour in traffic only to find people weaving around a mountain of fish parts, at least it would make for a good story.

But that laughing group of unconcerned, unhurried construction workers irked me. We may not move all that much faster out here in the country, but when we catch on that we're in the way, we generally move to the side.

Not so with those guys.

I made it through the I-94 jam without having a stroke, but the city wasn't done with me yet. After taking in a Twins game, I headed down the freeway to my hotel.

Construction. Traffic. Stop and go -- and it was almost midnight! Two jams in one day.

By then, I was too worn out to care. My temper didn't go off and my blood pressure didn't rise. Like a robot, I accelerated and braked, over and over, calm as a cow.

Obviously, I had reached the same state millions of commuters reach each day in this country: numb submission to reality.

Then I got to thinking: You know, these people have busy lives. That hour or two per day they sit by themselves in their cars stuck in traffic might be the only solitude they get!

What's more, traffic jams probably give suburbanites excuses to escape other even more miserable miseries.

Sorry kids, couldn't make your soccer game, stuck in traffic. Sorry to miss the committee meeting, stuck in traffic. Couldn't make it to your scrapbooking party, stuck in traffic. Sorry to miss your sales presentation, stuck in traffic.

No wonder none of the drivers threw water balloons at those laughing construction workers. They were enjoying themselves just as much!