Thursday, May 24, 2007

I Owe, I Owe, So Off to Work I Go

There are so many things in life I hate. I wish I could list them all for you, and then you'd get an idea of why I'm the miserable old bastard I am.

I pulled out onto the road leading out of the campus where I work today at 4:45 p.m. The first half mile of my trip was normal; nothing thereafter was, however.

I came upon a line of traffic backed up at the light on the first intersection with a road that didn't go into another campus in the commercial area. The miniature river of red tail lights winked at me in defiant mockery. I hit the brakes and rode them the rest of the way to the intersection. I was greeted there by another, slow-moving inchworm of traffic that snailed its way down the winding, two-lane road. About another half mile up, the traffic ceased movement altogether.

I've dealt with nasty traffic on this particular stretch of road before. It slaloms through the swank Riverwoods area and is patrolled often and well by police eager to raise revenues and keep wealthy homeowners from complaining. The 35 mph speed is best observed, particularly at high-traffic times. A pull-over not only costs the one being pulled over time and money, it can stop or delay the movement of the road for miles in both directions.

I let my foot off the brake a few times and realized I wasn't going to get home early, after all.

I thought, initially, that perhaps the additional flow was due to holiday-seekers sneaking out early to jump on their four-day weekend. A huge number of people will take the Friday before a three-day weekend off (or the Monday following) and extend their leisure. Still, the traffic was thick and crawling in BOTH directions ... highly unusual. I let up and the brake, crept 10 feet, and stopped again. I heard a sound and realized I'd LOUDLY sighed in resigned exasperation. Then I heard another sound.

A woman in a minivan trying to turn onto the crossroad to my left was yammering at me. "Does this Portwine street go to Lake Cook Road??" her irritatingly grating voice intruded into my solitude. "I have no idea," I sneered, knowing full well it didn't. She rolled her eyes in frustration and let her ham hock of a paw drop hard onto her steering wheel. She'd know soon enough, and the very road she was turning from was the one that led to the street she sought. What am I, I thought, Tom-Tom? 411? Get a frickin' MAP, I thought, and called my wife.

The kids were screaming in the background. She put the phone down and I heard a bellowing, followed by a few seconds of silence behind it like a boat's wake. But before the conversation resumed, the clamor started again.

More bellowing. A threat is issued. A few seconds of quiet. Phone conversation continues. Cacophony in the background a few seconds after that.

I let the brake off and crept some more. I wondered how far I'd gone. It appeared to be less than six miles. It took me nearly forty minutes.

My wife told me she had a headache. More caterwauling in the background. Another threat, followed by a shouted imperative to get off the bed. Reiteration of the headache. I offer to pick up dinner and immediately regret my offer. In two days, I've spent a total of three or four hours with her and the kids. I ask if they want to go with me and offer to pick them up, then creep some more. Not really, she says. See you when you get home.

I hang up, trying to have some mercy on her. I know from headaches; I get migraines triggered by sinusitis. It's a joy. If she's got a headache, and the kids are out of control ... well, I can only say it was God's grace that it was her at home and not me.

Let the foot off the brake. Creep. Stop. Wait. Creep. Stop. Wait. Wait some more. Still more. Creep ahead.

Nearly an hour in the car now, and I haven't gone even seven of the TWENTY miles I have to traverse to get home. The weather was warm, much warmer than I wanted, but the wind was blowing stoutly without becoming that obnoxious, uneducated and uncouth wind so common in the Chicago area. With both windows down, I didn't need the non-existent air conditioner ... thank God.

I blew air through pursed lips and listened to them slap together, effectively giving a raspberry to everyone that cared. I heard a man speaking over his hip-hop into his cell phone declare that he HAD come from [Route] 60, and where the fuck is he now?? I wondered who was on the other end of that conversation. Spouse? Co-worker? Mistress? Drug dealer? Then it came to me -- I didn't care.

Let the foot off the brake. Move a whopping 20 feet this time. Then again. Hmm. I'd rounded a bend in the road and from my vantage point at the crest of what passes for a hill in Illinois I could see the red and blue flashers blazing far distant from me. They appeared to be in the middle of the next major intersection, cutting off westbound traffic and forcing cars to go either north or south ... onto the very street where I was slugging my way home.

It took me another twenty minutes of inching along to finally reach that intersection. A few seconds before I did, two police cruisers floated lazily past me going south. The first had his window down, and all I could hear was the cackling laughter spilling out of his mouth and into the cars of the people he was passing. I wondered what could have been so funny. A maiming in the accident that had traffic blocked? A death, perhaps? Or just the idea of the rest of us being stuck in the mess while he can turn on his lights and rush to Dunkin' Donuts for another dozen? Then it came to me -- I didn't care.

Two hours and twenty-three minutes later, I finally walked into my house. I was greeted by my glass-eyed wife and, when his video game permitted, by my son. And soon, it's off to bed. So despite leaving twenty minutes early, I was nearly two hours later.

Just one of the things on that long list of things I hate. Traffic.

It's probably near the top.


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