Monday, February 05, 2007

Road Rage

Man, I hate to drive. I really hate to drive. So it's unfortunate that my lovely job is nearly 30 miles each direction. The first few weeks were really bad, and I struggled to get into the swing of it. I've never really liked driving at all, not even when I first got my license. In fact, I was less than a month shy of my 19th birthday before I got around to taking the driving test, and the only reason I bothered then was that my mom was moving to a day shift job and I couldn't take the school bus for some reason (I was still in high school at 19 because I'd been gone in Germany for so long, just in case the math was throwing you off there. Try to stay focused, okay?). In college, I rented apartments very close to campus and let Finbar drive me around everywhere else except back and forth to work, really. When I lived in Buffalo, I worked something like 4 or 5 miles from home and let Finbar drive me around most of the time on the weekends. The whole time I was in law school, I rode the bus back and forth, driving only for things like going grocery shopping or to the mall, with the occasional long-distance trip to Buffalo to see Finbar, or back home to see my family. I've had my car for eight years, and before I started this job, I had only 61,000 miles on it. Because I hate to drive and try to avoid it when possible. Which makes it oh, so delicious that I've taken a job nearly 30 miles away from home.

In the grand tradition of silver linings, there's one small thing that I just love about my morning commute and it makes me super cranky when someone screws it up. I live close to the highway on ramp, which seems like it should be really convenient. However, due to the fact that crack-addled monkeys were in charge of designing the highways here in Our Fair City, actually getting to the highway is not as simple as merely cruising up the on ramp. Oh, no! The fun part is that there are three consecutive merges on the ramp itself plus one merge onto the highway. You enter about 1/4 mile before the entrance to a tunnel, which is sufficient in and of itself to cause inexplicable traffic jams at odd hours, like 7 p.m. on a Sunday night. I hypothesize that the natives here believe that a monster lives in the tunnel, or else that they think that there's a possibility that the tunnel entrance might shrink unexpectedly, much like a carnival fun ride or the door to a Bond villain's lair. Anyway, each spur of this mess of merges has a yield sign, so that once you're on the on ramp, you should be able to zip right on along while traffic entering from each of the spurs yields to you.

In the morning, that system, followed to the letter of the law would result in the traffic on the spurs being utterly unable to enter the on ramp because there would never be a break in the traffic on the main spur. As it happens, I live closest to the first, main spur. My first morning, I almost had a heart attack when I came around the corner and saw that the traffic was backed all the way along the on ramp, onto the street and back more than a block. And it didn't seem to be moving. As I sat there watching, it became clear that it was moving, just at a snail's pace. And as I approached each spur, I was pleasantly pleased to find that zipper traffic was in full effect.

Now, realize that this is not a place where people really get traffic laws or ettiquette. In fact, I am of the firm opinion that this place has some of the worst drivers in the country. I would rather drive the Beltway at rush hour than deal with Saturday afternoon traffic at the local mall. And this is a fully-informed opinion, people: I've driven the Beltway at rush hour! In my boss's car! For which I wasn't entirely certain that I was actually insured! In fact, the drivers here are so bad that the state department of transportation posted a sign near a construction site that says "Merge here. Take your turn." "Take your turn"! Like they're dealing with preschoolers fighting over a slide. So I was feeling all grateful for the fact that I start right out on the main spur, feeling sorry for the poor suckers who had to try and merge... and I was utterly flabbergasted to discover that every morning, zipper traffic is the rule. People are polite and everyone takes a turn, so the traffic moves slowly but you don't feel impatient because you know that no one is going to keep you from merging or cut you off.

Nothing ruins my morning coffee faster than the occasional oblivious jerk who doesn't get it and doesn't let people over, or muscles his way (or her way, though it's almost always a man) into the line of traffic instead of waiting his turn like the rest of us. These are, as far as I can tell, the same people who used to shove other kids off the ladder of the slide so that they could slide down without waiting their turn. Just like you, Kelly M.! Thanks for the concussion! Kindergarten wouldn't have been the same without it!

I am also constantly astounded by the new heights to which drivers in this city take rubbernecking. I can sort of understand the impulse to look, the train wreck phenomenon. But. People! There are fenderbenders almost every single day. And most of the time, all there is to see are two cars pulled over in the emergency lane with little or no visible damage. So there is no need to do more than just notice it as you drive by at a reasonable speed. There is no need to, say, come to a COMPLETE STOP to try and get a good gawk at the fender bender in the opposite lanes, especially when there is a great, hulking concrete barrier blocking most of your view anyway! You don't get to see anything "worth" seeing, and you are causing a traffic jam several miles long. I kid you not, people were coming to a dead stop, and you would see their heads turn and their necks stretch, then they would realize that they could see nothing and hit the gas, resuming normal speeds. This particular instance of nonsense made my 45 minute commute stretch to 1 hour and 35 minutes the other day. I wasn't sure whether I wanted more to cry or scream.

God forbid that a few snowflakes fall.

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