I don’t know about you, but traffic jams always bring out the worst in me. I’m not an inherently patient person to begin with, but traffic jams anger me to the point of distraction.
On a good day it takes me maybe twenty minutes to feel the boredom and irritation creeping in. On a bad day it takes roughly twenty seconds.
Sitting still, waiting for the line of brake lights in front of me to dim, I call everyone I know to complain about my plight, spewing obscenities I wasn’t aware I even knew.
Everyone I know says basically the same thing: Aw, shucks, that sucks. But it can’t last forever, so just be patient.
I always answer: Yeah, you’re right, I’m overreacting, thanks for listening to me vent.
But I’m really thinking: No. No, I don’t think you understand the full extent of my rage. I don’t think you’re following my I-want-to-honk-my-horn-insistently-until-this-freaking-line-of-cars-starts-to-move mindset.
It doesn’t occur to me that they’ve also been in this situation; that everyone who drives has probably been in at least one of these miserable, headache-inducing traffic jams at some point. No, that doesn’t enter my thoughts at all.
Because, I think, they haven’t. Not like this. This is the worst traffic jam ever. (Although I’ve probably thought that at least five times. This year.)
After an hour passes, I once again dial through my list of friends, family, and vague acquaintances, and this time the responses are a little more serious, a little more respectful. But I don’t know why I bother calling, because by this time I am past consoling and far past caring. I don’t care what happened up ahead. I only want to get home (which is usually, ironically, within walking distance of where the car is idling.)
But then the ambulances start to pass. The sirens and lights I’ve been looking at for an hour are suddenly real, suddenly there, suddenly right next to me. And I’m–if only for a moment–suddenly humbled. Here I am, sitting in my warm car, bitching about the fact that I’m sitting in my warm car? What kind of person am I? More ambulances and then a fire truck speed by, and I start to feel like a bit of gum on a hobo’s shoe. Someone is obviously very hurt. Therefore, I am probably the worst person on the planet. My rage is immediately replaced with an inexplicable urge to help.
I think: Maybe they need a cell phone?
As if cops don’t have phones.
I know a little about medicine. My mom’s a nurse, maybe I could…
But you just saw three ambulances drive by.
I have some bottles of water in the back, and some green tea. Maybe they…
Now you’re just reaching.
This goes on for maybe five minutes, and then the ambulances are done passing, the fire truck is gone, and I still haven’t moved. I’m still sitting, staring at the brake lights ahead. The pity and worry are slowly slinking away, and once again I’m left with boredom and, yes, anger. Maybe not as strong as before, but strong enough to have me scrolling through the contact list on my phone.
And then, after an indeterminate amount of time–time spent futilely swearing, banging my fists on the wheel, and dreaming of driving recklessly through the field that is usually tempting me from somewhere near–the line starts to move. I take off the e-brake, turn on my lights, turn down the radio, and inch forward. Then the speed picks up to five or six miles an hour, and I feel like I’m flying. Compared to complete motionlessness, this is unbelievably speedy.
Subconsciously I’m looking forward to passing the accident site. I want to see what so altered my plans for the evening, what so inconvenienced me, what so pissed me off. Somehow I think that if it’s huge–if there’s glass all over the road or a truck on its side–that it will be, in some twisted way, worth it.
But then I pass the accident site, cops lazily motioning my line of cars around the median, and there’s nothing. No wreck, no trucks, no fire; no aftermath at all.
I’m deflated. I feel like I deserve to see what happened. Then, as I accelerate to fifteen, twenty–thirty-five miles an hour, wow this feels so weird!–I start to feel bad again. I deserve to see what happened? I deserve something from this because I was inconvenienced? Someone may have died for all I know. Someone could have been running down the side of the road, on fire, spontaneously combusting, and I would have had no idea. And yet I’m moving now, driving, three minutes from my house, and I’m still complaining.
As I finish my drive I go back to feeling like that bit of gum on that hobo’s shoe, and the rage and comments about the worst traffic jam ever are completely forgotten.