Twice in the last couple of weeks, family matters have called me over to the Western Shore. I don’t mind that; it comes with the matrimonial territory of a big family. But what I do mind is that on both occasions, on my way back to the Eastern Shore, I found myself in massive traffic snarls emanating from the Bay Bridge. Sigh.
I like to think that I’m a reasonably patient person, but when it comes to traffic jams, I know I’m not. Whenever the traffic begins to slow, my fingers start to drum on the steering wheel. By the time the traffic begins its stop-and-go rhythm and the crawl really begins, I’m screeching like a tea kettle on the boil. I try to regain my good karma: I play license plate bingo or read bumper stickers, but in a minute or two, I’m back to composing a profane letter to Governor Hogan reminding him of his sworn responsibility to personally facilitate my commute.
Now I’m not going to use this space to debate the merits or location of a new span across the Bay. I’ll leave that work to others: the engineers, the planners, and (God save us) the politicians. What I do want to write about now are the crossings we come to that don’t go as planned. Maybe there’s an accident ahead, or a barrier in our way, or maybe it just isn’t the right time, but for one reason or another—space or time or fortune—we just can’t get across to the other side. We’ve all been caught in that snarl at one time or another.
Part of the problem lies with our expectations. We assume that the lanes ahead will always be open to us, but sometimes, they just aren’t. It’s not our fault, but someone has to take the blame—sorry about that letter, Governor Hogan. Another part of the problem is filed under “Entitlement.” We should all be entitled to a smooth commute and a timely arrival but when neither happens, we feel life has treated us unfairly. We deserve better!
It’s bad enough when the snarl is a singular event, but by definition, traffic jams are multiple happenings. Since everyone is in the same boat, the frustration grows like bad compound interest. Then the jockeying for position begins and soon enough, everyone is sucked into the negative atmosphere of an old-fashioned pressure vacuum tube and the fun really begins. Whoosh!
When it comes to traffic, I wish I were more even-keeled. I wish I had better options. Maybe a good book-on-tape would take my mind off all those idiots in the other lanes. Maybe there is a method of studying Italian that would preclude me from giving dirty looks left and right, but I fear I might just learn all those wonderful Italian curses. I wish I could just find the eye in the center of the hurricane and drive in a state of perpetual bliss, but I guess I’m made of scratchier stuff. Try as I might, I want to get across that damn bridge on my own damn terms so when I’m forced to consider the larger forces at work in the universe, I’m never in the proper lane for beneficial philosophical reflection. No; the pot boils and that’s that.
If I’ve ever glared at you, I apologize. If I’ve ever showed you a certain finger on my right hand, please forgive me. We’re all going in the same direction on this spinning orb, so let’s all calm down, give a wave, and let each other in. We’ll get across…eventually.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.