DEPENDING ON TRAFFIC

I haven’t gotten out much during the past 6 weeks. Since the first blizzard at the end of January, merely walking up the icy driveway to the car has been a big deal. Roads have been icy, air bitterly cold. Visibility down to zero as the snow falls. Crazy drivers who think their SUV makes them immune to weather, who then have accidents which tie up traffic for hours.

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It’s a mad, mad, mad world on the highway, but here in the U.S.A., we love our cars and will drive them no matter what. Besides, a lot of places, you don’t have any choice. Small town America has no public transportation. Not even a taxi. You drive or you walk. Most of us drive.

Today, I had to get to the doctor’s office. It’s a 45 minutes drive, more or less, depending on traffic. As soon as I said “depending on traffic,” I realized Garry and I say that every time we go anywhere. It doesn’t matter what time of year, either. One way or another, it always depends on traffic.

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How much time do we spend in our cars? How many weeks and months do we spend sitting, waiting for traffic to clear?  What percentage of our lives do we waste maddened by slow drivers, distracted drivers, stoned or drunk drivers, and plain old bad drivers? I’m sure it’s a calculable percentage for someone sophisticated in statistics. Not me, but someone.

Add together the vagaries of traffic and delays caused by weather — rain, wind, snow, ice, heat. Adding factor “X” to time allowed to travel anywhere from a quick trip to the grocery, to a doctor’s appointment, concert, or 1000 mile driving holiday. Visiting friends, going to work, coming home. Life depends on traffic.

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We try to make appointments for times when traffic is light, but no matter how carefully you plan, you can’t control construction, rubbernecking, accidents, or a jack-knifed semi. Or a road flooded by a river risen over its banks or a road which dead-ends at a washed-out bridge.

Whether it’s ice on the road, high winds on the bridge, or a flat tire changer on the expressway — at rush hour — planning only gets you so far. The rest depends on traffic.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Roads

From the city to the country and back again, this is a nation of roads. Americans are wedded to their wheels, their trucks and cars. We can’t imagine a world without a road to get from here to there, wherever here is, wherever there may be. There absolutely must be a road … because we are defined by our roads.

No road? Impossible. That would be un-American.

WHEREVER THE ROADS GO

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It’s hard to believe, but it’s been two years since I visited my favorite old fire engine. He’s right where I last saw him. In the vacant area across from the post office.

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Harder to spot him from the road, now because the bushes and brush have grown around him. Enclosing him tightly in overhanging branches, wildflowers and weeds closing around his old tires.

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There’s a little memorial nearby in memory of lost firefighters, the Worcester fireman and the 9/11 first responders. And a few locals, too. I don’t know if anyone but me visits any more.

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Old Number 2, with all his memories, is slowly being forgotten by everyone. Except, I guess, me.

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HONORABLE RETIREMENT – OLD NO. TWO

Most of us don’t think about traffic. We just deal with it. It’s part of life. Whether it’s trying to find a parking space or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a holiday weekend, traffic is everywhere.

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I don’t usually think about traffic these days because we don’t have much. This is the country. A traffic jam is a tractor and two cars at an intersection. Road repairs. An annoying slow driver. A bridge washes out.

Until we moved here, though, traffic was the single biggest issue controlling our lives. Road work in Boston made it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock during holidays effectively closed the city.

When we lived in downtown Boston, one Friday in December, Garry asked me to pick him up at work. He had packages to carry.

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I left the parking lot, drove a block, and stopped. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I still hadn’t moved. I u-turned and went home. It was pre-cell phones, so I called the guard at the front desk at Channel 7, asked him to tell Garry I couldn’t get there.

The next day it was in the papers and on TV — Boston was gridlocked. It was the Friday before Christmas. Everyone had decided to go shopping. No one went anywhere.

A year later, we moved to Roxbury, just outside the city center. It was less congested. You could park for free on the street.

Along came the Big Dig, aka the Central Artery-Tunnel Project. It was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning almost every road in, out, around, and through Boston. It changed the main artery (Route 93) —  an ugly stretch of permanently clogged elevated highway — into a permanently clogged tunnel.

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It didn’t solve the traffic problems, but it made traffic invisible. On the plus side, it straightened out some of the city’s worst intersections and made getting to and from the airport easier.

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. Plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses, design flaws, poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for some offenders (but not enough) and 4 deaths, the project was scheduled for completion in 1998 and was supposed to cost $2.8 billion. It was officially finished in December 2007 and cost $14.6 billion.

The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest, fines, and lawsuits, the project will cost more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until 2038. Maybe not even then.

The Big Dig drove us out of Boston. One day, I had to go shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me 2 hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!” And we did.

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We fled. Traffic was controlling our lives. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to work. People trying to visit us couldn’t find our condo because the exit to our neighborhood was often closed. Out-of-town visitors roamed helplessly through the streets of Dorchester looking in vain for a street sign or marker. Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home.

I spent years of my life in traffic. The time I spent at work plus 2 to 4 hours of commuting, my life was dominated by traffic. By the time we slouched into retirement, we were wrecks.

Do I have a solution? No. But I know that commuting and the constant traffic wore us out. One day, we snapped. We couldn’t do it anymore.

Funny thing about traffic. You may not notice it when you live with it every day, but if suddenly, it isn’t a major factor in your life, it’s a whole, new world. A far better world.

LIVING IN GRIDLOCK

MY TWO CITIES ARE WAITING AND I’M GOING IN STYLE!

A Tale of Two Cities

If you could split your time evenly between two places, and two places only, which would these be?


Easy choices! I’ll take Jerusalem, Israel and New York, New York.

I’m (of course) assuming you will be supplying attractive housing and unlimited plane fares. Furnishings and appropriate wardrobes, and of course, a generous stipend.

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That would work for me and my husband. You are paying his way too, right? And all my best friends and close family as well?

Naturally, suitable transportation will be provided at each location. You know … cars, taxis, limos as needed? And support personnel? Cleaning staff, cooks, personal assistants? Dog walkers?

This is going to be our reward for a long life of hard work and challenges no one should have to face, so I’m expecting great things.

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Thanks for your kind offer. I’m not even going to pack my bags since I’m sure your people will be in touch and make all the necessary arrangements. Have a good day and thanks again.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.