Slow down to see good side of morning traffic jam

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2007

Last Friday morning, my 20-minute commute to work took an hour. There was an accident miles down the road, but by the time I finally reached that intersection, all trace of it had been taken away.

The morning had begun like all the others before grinding to a halt from the 150-mph jetstream that is the parkway I take to work. All we could do was to take our right feet off the brake pedal, roll up a yard or so, stop again, then repeat as needed.

You know, it wasn’t a bad way to spend an hour, and it certainly could have been worse: I might have been on my way home.

I usually take my time driving to work: I know that my work will still be waiting on me when I arrive and that I must do it all before I go home. The daily commute is just two slices of bread that sandwich the job.

For that reason, I generally stay in the slow lane unless I have to move over to let cars into traffic from an onramp. That’s the reason I am one of only three people who slow down to the neighborhood of 45 mph in the 45-mph construction zone on the interstate. (That, and a fear of having to explain expensive traffic tickets to my wife.)

Also, speeding would make me miss The Morning Rush, whose actors don’t know they’re putting on a show. Here’s the guy who thinks he’s a NASCAR racer but never imagines he might be the one to reach the finish line on his roof. There’s the woman who, instead of getting up five minutes early to apply her makeup, dabs it on with one hand while holding her phone with the other and steering with, I can only imagine, her knees. Other characters are shaving, reading novels, trying to swat their kids in the back seat or tossing cigarettes out of their sunroofs — or perhaps all of the above.

On Friday, it was a new show because I could watch all that I had been missing. After pulling ahead a few feet and stopping, for instance, I realized I was directly above the canal. Its smooth water stretched to my right, then bent out of sight. The jogging path was empty.

Something — I couldn’t tell what species — broke the water’s surface, leaving a tiny wake as it swam. My eye turned to a large white egret (or crane or heron; a bird is a bird is a bird) gliding grandly across the canal.

I rolled ahead a few feet. Soon the parkway passed over railroad tracks.

Far below me, a line of open cars carrying coal roared past. I was determined to see the end of them, but they were too numerous. I moved on.

I inhaled through my open windows. Despite all the exhaust pipes ahead of me, the air was fresh, clean, brisk but not chilly.

Through my windshield and in my rearview mirror, there were two lanes of cars and trucks approaching infinity. The view was more interesting to my right and left, where trees, some dead for winter and some fooled back into life by our unusual-as-usual weather, lined the road.

I looked at the metal guardrail to my right, noticing each dent and speck of paint left by unfortunate drivers motoring much faster than I was. My hand tapped the steering wheel to my music, which had been playing since I left home. A CD, of course. Radio? Are there any music stations around here?

I like rousing music to get me to work. This day it was Springsteen, loud enough to keep my blood pumping but not so loud it would drown out any sirens of emergency vehicles squeezing by. I could relax to the news or calmer music on the way home, but daybreak was made for decibels.

Each time I stopped the car, I sipped from the big cup of coffee I had brought from home to get me through the workday. It was empty by the time traffic returned to normal.

Right feet hit the gas. Speedometers surged. The tranquility was a memory. Everyone had to be somewhere right now.

All in all, it had been a pleasant traffic jam.

Reach Glynn Moore at This column distributed by Morris News Service.

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