Travis Laurence Naught

Howdy Neighbor: The Nature of Traffic Jams

Travis Laurence Naught examines our love of cars and road trips and questions why we’re willing to suffer through traffic jams.

 

Road novels.

Road songs.

Road trips.

The road is calling.

Summer vacation season means that people who are so proud of where they’re from strike out in search of places they hope compare favorably to home. Tourists in their own land admiring national parks, wacky roadside oddities, and lavish destinations designed for every sort. Inevitably, many will return home to gripe about how heinous it was to deal with all that traffic. Oh, the memories. Remember when the kids started counting the number of middle fingers thrown in Dad’s direction?

Those giggles from the backseat and watching the heads of the families navigate are the beginning of a love story with America’s spiderweb system of transportation. It is well-known among so many enthusiasts that a bad day can turn serene with the freedom found of hurtling down the back roads at breakneck speeds. Casually cruising through town a few hundred times per week was the pastime (quickly going by the wayside) of every newly-minted driver. The fact that one of the most successful Hollywood franchises of all time is called Fast & Furious and that they would continue it even after the lead died because of a car accident says a lot about the public’s interest in getting behind the wheel.

But how construction and stalled lane backups are bemoaned! Individuals can’t stand being late for appointments or work they have to travel over hill and dale for. Imagine a world where communities band together to help each other out and not have to go out of their way to make a difference in the world. Black Lives Matter gatherings draw an irrationally disproportionate amount of negative media coverage for momentarily blocking freeways, especially based on the average commute times those freeways generally proffer anyway. Let’s say things have been slowed down by an average of 15 minutes … it’s been preached for ages: SLOW DOWN, SAVE LIVES.

And, Good Lord, the pollution. Even though it seems like public transportation is being used more and more, bike lanes are crowding tiny frames into lanes designed for larger metal hulking beasts, and electricity is beginning to supplant gasoline for automobile propulsion, there are seemingly two Richter tics more worth of cars and trucks spewing exhaust into the air. People have been known to park in a closed-off space and go to sleep forever. The ozone layer can only burn off so fast, effectively making Earth a very large closed-off space. Don’t worry, though, surely the math works out in humanity’s favor … (cough, cough).

All that vaporous air might be going to the heads of lonely people. “Doesn’t anyone stay home anymore?” is a question sometimes brought up when midday traffic flows are running unexpected volumes. Everybody’s got to rush somewhere, apparently. But it’s possible that those people simply feel the need to be encountered. Driving around between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and midnight can feel just as hectic as between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. in many major cities. Waking up in the middle of the night for a summer trip to Juneau in 2010 revealed just as much traffic rolling by the hotel at 3:00 a.m. as there was at 5:00 p.m. the previous day! Just over 30,000 people and no way to drive in from out of town, but dammit they needed to be out and about just then.

It would be interesting to see a world where the convenience of striking out across several miles takes a matter of minutes as opposed to requiring an overnight stay. Not so drastic as to get rid of our other advancements, mind you, but to stop the madness that is having to pass by so much life at 55 …. Okay, 75 mph. Sorry to have sounded like an old bastard there for a second. Maybe we would get to know our neighbors a little better. Maybe the need to connect with someone “just like us” could be traded in for getting to learn about someone who is so different it changes our collective views about what it means to be different. Turns out we all need nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, argon, and carbon dioxide to breathe.

So, go for a walk the next time you need to decompress. I can’t promise it won’t be scary, but collisions at 3 miles an hour hurt a lot less than those at 33 miles an hour. Hell, some of the slower collisions can feel pretty good. Those slower collisions are sung about all the time on the radio. There are radios on your phone, television, computer …. No need to listen to them in your car anymore. If you’re lucky, somebody you meet on that walk will want to take a cue from one of those collision songs. Backseats are cramped and uncomfortable, anyway. Be grateful there won’t be any delay in your commute to the bedroom.

 

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Travis Laurence Naught

Travis Laurence Naught is an author who happens to be a quadriplegic wheelchair user. Individual poems, stories, and various other material by Travis have been published online (Section 8 Magazine, Empty Sink Publishing, Damfino Press, and others) and in print (Gold Man Review, Lost Coast Review, Empirical Magazine, and more). His first book of poetry, The Virgin Journals (ASD Publishing, 2012), is currently out of print, but copies can still be found. Check out naughtapoet.blogspot.com for more information and original writing by Travis.

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