I was stuck in a traffic jam today…again. It’s nothing new here in the City. Sometimes I spend 3 hours a day in the car just in the City. I know, I know, every city has traffic problems but even people from Warsaw are griping about the City. One problem is that at least 95% (OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but not much) of the City’s roads are currently under some kind of road works, ranging from mild pothole filling to complete construction/reconstruction. The rest of the roads are in dire need of road works which are not going to be done in the near or even far future.
Exhibit A of roads not in any road works planning committee would be the road close to my home. It is a normal city street. It has a name. There are at least 7 different apartment complexes on this road and a couple of single family homes. There are some shops, nothing fancy, a deli, a greengrocer, a hair salon, etc. This road is a popular short-cut for City drivers as well. It is also the main road from my neighborhood to my kid’s school. The problem with our road is that it isn’t really a road so much as it is a collection of holes and waterways. I only take this road when I have the Jeep. I rather enjoy the road then. Who knew you could “off-road” in a city of 3quarters of a million people? And it is so passé to have a clean SUV these days. There’s a local initiative to get the road surfaced. The government will pay 90% if the citizens collect 10%. So far about 400 families have declared participation. I think it will happen, not because of my faith in the initiative or in the City for that matter. It is because the road works are following me around the city. Every place I move to soon gets a huge road overhaul. The moral is, if you need a new road, invite me to be your neighbor.
Traffic jams cannot all be blamed on the roads themselves. I also blame the drivers that get themselves stuck in the middle of an intersection when they darn well know that they won’t make it across. I’m not saying that is hasn’t happened to me. It has a couple of times in my driving career but it somehow happens to some people all the time. Once in NYC, I observed as the police closed an intersection where people had got themselves stranded in the middle. The police slowly but surely wrote each driver a ticket. After about 15 minutes of slow humiliation of the drivers, the officers opened the intersection again.
Anyhow, back to the advantages of traffic jams. During a traffic jam, I am alone and that is advantage enough. (Going to work is also cool. I can go to the bathroom and close the door and shout out a loud zajęty which gives me another couple of minutes of peace and quiet). Of course, I am talking about times when I am in the car without my children. Traffic jams with my kids have no advantages whatsoever unless you enjoy a chorus of screaming and crying kids. Anyhow, alone in the car, I can listen to the thoughts in my head, to the radio, to Misiu’s strange CD collection. I also like to take the time to observe people in other cars or on the street. I am fascinated by the car make-up appliers. Sometimes I think about following them to work to see the result of their handy work. There are also the nose-pickers. I think that I need a horn which doesn’t just beep at other motorists, but also sends out little messages such as, “You are not invisible. Please remove your finger from your nose.” One of our neighbors is a well-known plastic surgeon and he falls into the last category. I know, gross! I also like to check out how people are dressed. Once I saw a lady on the street wearing a t-shirt which read in English “When I’m good, I’m good but when I’m bad, I’m even better”. She was about 65 years old, and I believed it! Once I saw a young guy about 20 years old jogging in his underwear, black speedo style. I think he had lost a bet or something because he was too calm and waved at the beeping motorists.
In traffic jams, I can forget my troubles, even forget where I am. It’s a modern day “Calgon, take me away” moment. One day while wearing my American flag sweater (you wanna make something of that?) driving my American car to an American company, I was rocking out to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA (my sister had the ALBUM!!!) and I felt pretty strange. I felt disconnected. I looked around, yep, still in traffic jam, traffic jam still in the City, the City still in Poland. I felt even stranger when I entered the company and my student was wearing his American flag sweater, too.
Another advantage of traffic jams is that it gives you time to admire the scenery.
Can you think of any other advantages of traffic jams?
PS Why do I spend so much time in my car? My job works like this-I go to a company and teach a couple of hours of English (individuals and/or groups). When I’m finished, I hop in the car and drive to the next company to do the same. After that company, it’s back to the car and so on and so on. Somewhere in that cycle, I also have to go to the pre-school (twice-drop off and pick up) and get home as well. Actually, for all that 3 hours in the car is not that bad.