Thursday, April 03, 2014

Great Suburban Traditions: Number 14 – Rush Hour

Here we go again... (pic: SAHIP)
Around once a year I get caught up in the rush hour. I think that the reason I’ve never had a ‘proper’ career is that I still remember all the rush hours of my 20s, when I had the grave misfortune of going to work every day. Specifically, I remember how rush hours took at least two hours out of your day, every day, just so that you could get to and from a job that you hated.

     Yesterday I got caught in a traffic snarl around Dupont Circle in DC and – should we atheists turn out to be wrong - enjoyed a glimpse into the punishment I will likely undergo for eternity, having in the course of my life indulged in various activities not permitted by the bible. I will be in a line of traffic, and a long way up ahead I will see the light change from red to green. I will get ready to advance, and the cars and buses and trucks in front of me will rev a little, filling my nose and lungs with unpleasant fumes. Then the light will change back to red, with nobody having progressed a single inch.

    This will remain the same, for ever, and every time the light changes to green, I will retain a stupid hope that the traffic is going to move. I will never be able to see what is going on  up there – it could be road works, it could be an accident, it could just be the sheer volume of bovine commuters sitting stoically in their cars waiting out their lives, listening to the local traffic reports running through where all the problems are and why, but never mentioning the unexplained delay at Hell’s Dupont Circle.

      When jammed in like this, do people ask themselves, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ If they don’t, why not? How could you sit in this kind of traffic twice every day and not doubt at all the point and the worth of what you are doing? Why do I never see people abandoning their cars and shouting, ‘Ah, fuck this, I’m off to live on an organic farm in Montana.’ Then they run down the street waving their arms about and cackling at their new-found liberty, while all the other drivers look on with envy.

    I realise that people deal with commuting in different ways. For some, it’s the only time they get to spend on their own, away from family and work colleagues – as soon as the door is closed they make duck noises, fart like sailors, and sing random snatches of songs from the 1970s. Then once they’ve got all that out of their systems and settle down, they learn languages, listen to audio books, or sit with microphones wrapped around their heads talking earnestly, showing the other commuters that they are so important that they’re already on a conference call at 7.30am, or still on one at 7.30pm (“Need to talk to Tokyo”).

    Maybe if you do this every day you develop the precious virtue that deserts me when I’m behind the wheel – patience. Although, once the traffic loosens up a bit, you don’t see many drivers exhibiting this quality as they make a rush for the space ahead. Courtesy, caution and concessions are for fools naïve enough to think that there’s any reward here for fair play, while others steal ahead and make it back to suburbia ten seconds faster.

    You finally arrive at your silent, same-old destination and wonder, “Why was I in such a rush to get home?” Falling asleep to the imaginary preview in your head: Coming up in tomorrow’s episode – yet more of the same.