Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Emotional Traffic Jam

After driving in the Twin Cities metro area for fifteen-plus years, now, I’ve come to expect, and generally accept, a certain amount of unpredictability in traffic patterns, driving styles, and the amount of time it will actually take to get from point A to point B. It’s also the only metro area in which I’ve driven extensively, so I can't say for certain that it's different than any other. Well, there was Des Moines, which I was semi-familiar with for about three years, where I referred to the locals’ overall driving technique as “freestyle” and joked about starting a foundation to repair the thousands of turn signals which appeared to be non-functional in the average Iowan’s car.

But back to the Twin Cities. Now, I’m not going to rant about city traffic: a) I don’t allow myself to rant (too much) on this blog and, b) it would be way too easy. Instead, I want to relate my own contribution to today’s random highway insanity.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m under a great deal of stress. I won’t go into it here: you can find musings on the current turmoil in my life in other entries. Just know that, when I left my house this morning for my weekly meeting, I was probably not in the best frame of mind. Therefore, when traffic on 494 east unexplainably came to a near stand-still at France Avenue at 9:05a.m. I was a little annoyed. Here I had actually left home with enough time to get to my meeting and now it looked as if I would be late as usual. When the backup stubbornly persisted past Penn, I-35W, Lyndale and Nicollet, I just sort of threw up my hands. You know, ‘best laid plans’ and all that crap. But when I saw what had caused the back-up, I allowed myself a little self-righteous indignation. It was a multi-car accident with half a dozen police and rescue vehicles with flashing lights… on 494 WEST-bound. It wasn’t even on the same road. But whatever sick emotional void is filled by rubber-necking at someone else’s misfortune managed to inconvenience me terribly. (Of course I looked, too. I had plenty of time ;)

In the end I was maybe two minutes late. Big fat hairy deal. But my agitation lingered.

For two hours, I sat in the meeting, sometimes listening, sometimes participating but mostly, I have to admit, multi-tasking. I had yet to read the official report of all of Gavin’s testing at Children’s Integrative and spent the lion’s share of the time poring over the psychologist’s methodology, observations, interpretations and psychological diagnoses. No surprises. Still painful.

I bolted after the meeting, unwilling or unable to engage in the social niceties of fellowship, and headed home. After following an extremely slow driver all the way down Cedar (It appeared as if he was trying to find a specific address, yet he just kept on heading south), I breathed out in relief when we hit Highway 77 and I could pass him. In the next five minutes or so, I witnessed an unusually high incidence of irresponsible driving, from tailgaiting to speeding, to excessive lane changing, all seemingly without reason. I got on my auto-safety high horse and started mulling over all the stupid choices people make when they get behind the wheel of a car.

And then I glanced down at my speedometer. Um.

So I slowed way down and gave myself a bit of a talking-to. There was absolutely no reason in the universe that my general sense of stress and unhappiness should endanger myself or others through bad driving. Especially when I’m the first one to look critically at other’s choices and judge them for not being as safe and conscientious as I like to think I am. Thereafter, I committed to paying better attention and separating my emotions from my driving.

494 westbound was now completely cleared of the previous accident and traffic was moving in the usual 5-15 miles over the speed limit. In anticipation of the upcoming I-35W exchange (from HELL) I scooted into the far left lane to avoid the inevitable clog at that point. Unfortunately, once I passed the interchange, I was not able to return to a more central position on the road—traffic was just that thick. I noted behind me a sporty little BMW who was clearly irritated that I was in the left lane and wasn’t willing to drive 90 to get out of his way. At first, I was grateful when traffic loosened around France Avenue. But then, unfortunately, I had another issue. The pot holes between lanes along that stretch of road are unbelievable. There was no way I could move over a lane or two without jeopardizing my suspension in a serious way. So with the unhappy Beemer crawling up my rear end, I maintained what I believed to be a happy medium between the safety of the speed limit and the safety of avoiding a rear collision.

Finally, the yawning chasm between me and the next lane leveled out a bit and I slid into the center lane, tempted beyond belief to give the driver of the BMW a dirty look as he accelerated and roared past me in his impatience. Who was I to judge, when just twenty minutes earlier I had to dress myself down for the same vice? It was just enough, at that point, to get myself home and let go of “all the idiots out there.” It doesn’t do one bit of good to whine about other drivers and, as I so wonderfully demonstrated, it’s pretty hypocritical. Who’s to say the BMW-driver was even aware of his speed? Maybe he was lost in thought about some life tragedy. I’m not the traffic police. All I can do, just for today, is just take myself out of the equation.

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