Commuter Hell, the Ballet

The old, dirty flatbed truck two vehicles ahead if me is loaded down with assorted shopping carts. Had I noticed, I would have gotten in the other lane; now, it’s too late. I’ll be trapped in this spot for at least 20 minutes. I pound my flat palms on the steering wheel and use my most colorful language in my closed car. It’ll be a slow move up the main drag of my hometown, into the hills, over and around the bend, then back down into the town where I work today.

It’s my fault; I left late.

I have come to believe that there’s an art to getting through the commuter traffic. Timing, quick but calculated decisions, and a healthy helping of luck are all necessary components. As I sit at yet another light smelling exhaust fumes, feeling the combined thump-thump of the big truck’s engine and the stereo from the car immediately in front of me, I start to think that, as in all art, there’s a narrative to this car-ballet I do during the week.

There are the slow-goers who insist on driving just below the speed limit and they truly, sincerely believe it is best if everyone follows their lead. They almost never pull over to let the line of cars behind them pass. They staunchly guard their lane-place, and will even give their horn a little tap-tap if someone gets cheeky enough to tailgate.

On the road we also have the multi-taskers, who like to conduct blue-tooth meetings in their car while they also shave, or put on eyeliner, read reports, and root around for something-or-other in their glove compartment (something they seem frustrated about because it is seldom there). The multi-taskers can be dangerous; often you’ll spot them first weaving a little in the lane (although they usually manage to stay in the lane, at least). They are very distracted, and that always concerns me, particularly on winding, two-lane roads.

Then there are the happy-to-breathe who, when they come to a four-way stop, like to wave people through ahead of them two and three cars at a time just because it’s a nice thing to do. They keep plenty of distance between their car and the one in front of them, even if it’s a seriously-slow-goer. Their windows are down and you can see them singing along to the music, looking at the clouds in the sky, and just generally being glad they are alive.

Two other types of commuters that I see regularly are the all-business drivers and the oh-so-impatient. The all-business are my favorite to get behind, because they aren’t going to slow down to look at accidents or try any crazy passes around the slow-goers. They don’t gesture wildly when someone cuts them off, or give the middle finger to tailgaters. The oh-so-impatient drivers quite honestly scare me and I try to give them ample room (probably looking like a happy-to-breather in the process). They will always (you can count on this) use turn lanes and wide shoulders to pass the slow-goers and anyone else in the way. For this driver, it isn’t actually about being able to drive at a certain speed; they just don’t want anyone in front of them. They often have loud music coming out of their tinted windows. But despite what some may think, they aren’t all in their late teens and early 20s – impatience is not necessarily a matter of age.

I will admit that I’ve been some form of each of these drivers and appreciate the headspace that each type represents.

I catch a break in my commute this morning….my slow-goer truck turns off before the long trek up the two-lane hill-road and I say a little prayer of thanks to the commuter gods; it looks like I may get to my class on time after all. I crank up the stereo and start singing along to the upbeat song. I notice the clouds dancing around in the blue-blue sky. Some days are just good.

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