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August 12, 2011

A Shore Thing

by drivingfarce

I leave for the shore tomorrow evening. I’m not sure why those of us living in the Mid-Atlantic states call the place where land meets sea water The Shore, nor why elsewhere it is called The Coast, The Beach, or The Ocean. I do find myself reacting to the mere mention of The Shore as though someone was talking of The Plague or The Gout. I find it best to avoid any of them, for two reasons: 1) massive amounts of people (and massive people, more often than not), and 2) the traffic jams.

I must admit that I tend to dislike people, in general. I find them to be genuinely rude and inconsiderate of others (namely me). They also tend to speak too loudly and, while they’re at it, seem to have no concept of when to stop talking. I will admit that there are a few exceptions, and those are usually real gems. (I am not one of them, sadly.) However, by and large, most people fall into the category of Best Avoided, and a strict adherence to this rule has kept me alive and at least partially sane to this day.

The sad thing about the existence of those Best Avoided is that they often want to be in the same places that I do. I can only assume that they are doing this for the sheer enjoyment of annoying me. Or they couldn’t think of anything more creative to do. Regardless of their motive, this means that we all try to occupy the same space at the same time, creating a traffic jam. I am unsure which is the more frustrating aspect of being stuck in traffic: the not moving or the knowing that everyone else is heading to the same place I am. So tomorrow eve I will find myself stuck in a line of traffic with thousands of other people, beginning at the Delaware state line and ending somewhere around the Atlantic Ocean. (or just beyond it, if we’re lucky) I cannot wait.

You would think that I would be used to this concept of hurry-up-to-wait by now. After all, I’ve been driving for nearly 20 years, and most of them legally. I have had plenty of opportunities to get myself into and out of tie-ups over these decades. Some of them were brief and nearly painless, while others were more in line with a lengthy incarceration or a temporary stopover in purgatory. I have compiled a list of some of my favorites. (And by “favorites” I mean “most baffling and hated.”)

Chicagoland, Illinois
The interstate system surrounding this urban monster is a pinnacle of civil engineering. It seems to have been designed in such a way as to allow the relative free-flow of traffic in east-west directions, yet punish those of us with the audacity to need to travel north or south. There are three Tollways going through the heart of Chicago. (Call me old fashioned, but I still believe Carol Stream is part of Chicago.) These Tollways give the motorist the pleasure of feeling the forceful acceleration of their car just in time to appreciate the stopping power of modern brakes, since the tollbooths are seemingly set up about 2 miles apart. They charge you a nominal fee at each stop as a form of Transportational Privilege Tax for the sheer enjoyment of taking part in this blatant inefficiency. It can be so infuriating that you never wish to return to Chicago. I know I haven’t been back in 15 years.

Warwick, Rhode Island
I was heading I-95, southbound on a Sunday night on the return leg of a trip to visit my sister living in Maine. Traffic was moving along nicely and everything seemed to be looking up for me until the road took a sweep to the west. Hundreds of cars were suddenly faced with the unforeseen obstacle of driving into direct sunlight. Several drivers’ brake pedals were smashed to the floor in an effort to scrub as much speed off as possible prior to impact with the sun. Traffic was stopped dead into the distance for as far as the eye could see. Thankfully, I was able to get off the interstate just in time and could navigate my way through several secondary roads to a point several miles down the highway where the sun was no longer a factor. As I merged back onto I-95, I glanced in my rearview mirror to see the backup extend over the horizon. Crisis avoided, this time.

Los Angeles, California
I knew the traffic in the LA basin is infamous, but I had yet to experience it firsthand. I was heading to LA on business earlier this year and was attempting to meet up with an acquaintance of mine while in town. I told her where I would be staying as we were making plans and was stunned by her response. “Well, Silver Lake is about 15 miles from Hawthorne so it would be about an hour and a half drive normally. During rush hour it would be a lot longer.” Excuse me?!? That’s only about 9 miles per hour. I really could walk there faster. Or at least run. (I had actually considered doing the latter.)

While I was out there I was greeted by a cold-front that dumped large amounts of rain and blew stiff winds for the entire duration of my stay. Merging onto Route 10 following a wet, but fantastic, meal at Tito’s Tacos in Culver City (conveniently located just minutes from the Petersen Museum) I got the mighty rental car up to speed and continued along for a good ½ mile before things came to a standstill across all three lanes of concrete. It seemed that people had become accustomed to the constant rain that the front was dumping on the coast, but the Los Angeles drivers still could not wrap their collective heads around the occasional palm branch that would blow onto the roadway. Having driven over a palm branch, I feel confident in saying that the subtle “thwack” that they emit is much more pleasing than the brash “crunch” of an oak limb taking out the front fascia that we easterners are faced with during our storms.

Washington, DC
Like any large city, traffic flow can be slow at times. While I hate it, I understand it and can nearly accept it. What I cannot understand is the when with DC traffic. I have navigated around DC’s beltway at 5:15 on a Friday afternoon without ever dropping below 50mph. I have also found myself stuck in gridlock on a Tuesday night at 2AM. It makes no sense to me, and I have stopped trying to figure it out.

Lancaster, PA
I have to deal with traffic every day on my commute. The worst that I face is Route 340 from Bird-in-Hand (look it up!) to Lancaster City itself. It is filled with tourists looking for Amish and smorgasbords that seem to have no ambition or consideration to get out of the way of others who are not. Turnsignals are left unused and brakes seem to only be applied in a binary manner. It is slow, it is dangerous, and covered with horse dung. (Not unlike myself at times.) I avoid this stretch of bumper-to-bumper mind anesthetic like The Plague. Or The Gout.

So what we seem to be left with is few alternatives to the headache of traffic. My motorcycles provide me with a bit more of an advantage in the cut & thrust maneuvers as traffic stutters along, but I find myself wishing for California’s lane-splitting acceptance to really get a leg up over others. I also take the train whenever I can, as it minimizes my emotional strain and stress. (Aside from the oft questionable state of the toilets.) Fortunately, for tomorrow’s trip to The Shore, I will be a passenger with no responsibility. Perhaps this is the solution I’ve been looking for all along?

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