Those of us who live in modern times all know the feeling. There we are, moving along nicely on an interstate highway, listening to All Things Considered on NPR and thinking about how much gas we’re burning, when we suddenly see that dreaded brake-light illumination that adorns the horizon like Christmas twinklers in a slasher movie. It’s what’s euphemistically known as traffic congestion. Sometimes, it’s just a police car parked on the side of the road simply to piss people off; sometimes it’s something more serious like a wreck. But more often that not, it’s that worst of worst-case scenarios: the road repaving project.
The most annoying thing about a road repaving project is that you can’t even spend any of the many hours sitting idly, while your speedometer never rises above zero, feeling sorry for the poor people whose bad luck caused it all. As my son, Billy says, if he's stuck in traffic for an inordinate amount of time, he'd better at least see a car on fire.
That’s what happened to me the other night. The the stuck in traffic, not the car on fire.
I was driving back to Atlanta after attending my daughter Molly's Master's graduation in Milledgeville, which is about 100 miles away. From the onset, I need to say that I no longer have any business driving after dark, especially on roads I don't know. The first part of my journey had been pretty perilous, with me white knuckling an erratic 55 on a two-lane road while everyone else wanted to drive 70, headlights and tail lights blinding my poor old eyes. So, when I finally merged onto I-20, I was relieved. The lighting was better and there were lanes for everyone to pass me by with fewer histrionics and birds being shot.
Speaking of driving after dark, I very seldom do it as I usually go to bed before the sun goes down, at least in all months other than December, January, and February. People who know me well know this about me and have learned not to call me after 7:30 pm. So, there I was that night, not only driving after dark, but also awake after dark. You know, it's really dark out there after dark.
Back to I-20 West heading into Atlanta. It was about 10 PM, two hours after my bedtime, but I was tooling along, making good time, listening to a riveting Rodgers and Hammerstein retrospective and lip-synching to Some Enchanted Evening, just twenty miles from home. That's when I noticed a couple of tail lights, nothing to worry about, probably just a geezer like me driving in the left lane. In fact, I liked the slowdown so I could smirk in the dark at all of the whippersnappers who had so rudely passed me miles back.
Two hours later, I was no longer smirking and boy did I have to pee. There I was in my little Corolla, inching forward one or two wheel rotations every couple of minutes, totally surrounded by huge semis, absolutely imprisoned in a jungle of asphalt, fenders, and fumes.
It's interesting that these "traffic congestions" happen all the time these days and the highway hostages pretty much comport themselves with patience and grace, to the point of letting all those fools who think they can get ahead by driving on the shoulder ultimately merge in at that last stupid minute, nobody shooting each other or even honking. It's as if everyone is too miserable to dream up anything dastardly.
And so, after almost two hours, it was twelve o'clock, a time of dark I haven't seen in years, and we finally arrived at and passed by those midnight warriors, people who work in the midst of the fumes and misery and dirty looks, and no escape themselves, to keep our roads pot-hole free and drivable for everyone, including slow drivers with bad night vision like me.
I finally made it home safe and somewhat sound, thanks to well-paved roads and people who are willing to stay up late and work in the dark. I guess that's as good a reason for traffic congestion as a car on fire.