Approaching Milepost 23
Approaching Milepost 23
There are days where everything goes your way — you find a good parking spot, your favorite socks are clean, the songs on the radio are a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll.
And then, there are other days.
Days where you find yourself on the way to work, behind a conga line of snails with the sun streaming in your driver's door window.
Days where you feel less like yourself and more like Adm. James Stockdale, asking aloud who you are and why you are stuck in line on I-5 as the traffic backs up nearing the construction work at the new Fern Valley interchange, when you knew dang well that the project was under way, which is why you've been taking the ever-popular "alternate routes" to get from Ashland to Medford "» but, what the hey, it's early on a Friday afternoon, so what possibly could go wrong if you try to cheat the odds and — just this once — think you've outsmarted those who have taken the alternate route by actually driving through the construction zone because, after all, you've calculated that the lunch rush is over, it's too early for the after-work traffic and the off-and-on rain will both slow down the road crews and scare off drivers who might otherwise stay on the interstate.
The information boards are rather mundane in their message-relating capabilities. Not that I think they should quote Da Vere as did the sentient signs talking to Steve Martin in "L.A. Story," but I wouldn't mind a touch of personality thrown our way as we move ahead at warped speed.
"USE YA BLINKAH," now that's original — unless you live in Massachusetts, where the info boards have begun speaking in the native tongue to passing motorists. Anyone who's driven in Massachusetts and doesn't suffer from PTSD as a result would recognize the helpful reminder about following rules of the road for what it is — futile — but would at least get a chuckle from the quaint notion that such warnings were meant to be helpful.
Road construction — as a necessity and a metaphor for middle age — is inevitable. Most of the time, we're stuck in neutral, watching others who think they've mastered the Kobayashi Maru Test by whipping past and getting a car length or two in front.
Alis Volat Propriis, indeed.
I usually wave to those folks. Well, not so much as wave; a proper wave would require the use of my thumb and other three fingers. Still, they drive on by, assured in the knowledge that when the road narrows from two lanes to one that some driver up ahead with an "I Brake For Idiots" bumper sticker will allow them to cut into line — just as they did during lunch in the fifth grade.
Life, as we all learned in kindergarten, isn't about the tricks we picked up in fifth grade, and the procession of turtles on I-5 is more symbolic of the time spent in idle contemplation than it is rooted in journeys and destinations and other 1970s dorm poster sayings.
The pickup truck in front of me is hauling an assortment of junk. (While we have the time, let's acknowledge that a pickup — in this usage, not in the 2 a.m. last man wobbling at the bar sense — is a truck and therefore "truck" is redundant ... not to mention (although I just did) that "junk" itself would seem to imply an assortment.)
The pickup is what my father would've called a "heap," although with a couple more words after that, the first of which being "of." It has clearly seen better days and so its driver has little problem breaking the law by gliding to the left and straddling the center line of the highway "» thus alerting would-be Starfleet captains behind us that you will not be passing beyond this point.
As a law-abiding citizen, I am dismayed and saddened by this driver's proactive stance. But as the guy in the car behind him, I cheer his moxie and would actually use all my fingers to wave at him. Or her.
Many of the drivers encountered on this particular trip seem to be deep in conversation. With themselves. Perhaps they're talking to someone on a phone you don't have to hold. Or maybe they're singing along with a CD or the radio.
More likely they're just asking themselves why they are in this crawl along the space-time continuum, and how did this large an assortment of junk wind up in their cars?
Or maybe they're just contemplating who I appear to be talking to at the moment.
Years ago, I worked for a newspaper in Massachusetts that ran a Lifestyles column written by someone her co-workers were certain never had any actual interaction with other people. ("Others," obviously, would have been fine; the "people" being unnecessary, unless we thought she was an alien.)
This made our columnist uniquely qualified to ramble on incoherently about the human condition.
(Yes, yes, you're all smart people out there.)
One week, the columnist wrote about a trip to the beach, where she sat people-watching and imagining the conversations they were having. And while this sounds more riveting than it actually was, she included her observation of one seemingly lost-in-thought soul "contemplating the footprints he made as he walked in the wet sand as the waves lapped at his feet."
Now that's a sentence fragment with any number of issues, but the one that gave me the reader's version of PTSD was the logistical improbability of this beach walker being able to contemplate — never mind see — his footprints. Unless, of course, he were walking backwards.
The explanation for this conundrum was left out of the column, a mystery unresolved to this day.
Over the years, when finding myself in stalled traffic or sitting somewhat awake surrounded by the walls of a cubicle the color of which is not found in nature, I have come to believe that, indeed, the man was walking in reverse, seeing where he's been, not knowing quite where he's going, how long it will take to get there, or what roadblocks he'll encounter along the way.
At least, that's what I believe. Then again, I've always been an optimist.
Approaching Milepost 24
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org