Tuesday, April 11, 2006

If a butterfly in Africa...

Another commuting story, but not one of frustration; one of empathy.

Traffic has a tendency to back up at one of the lights at our nearest freeway entrance. The lights had worked fine until our city decided to update them. In fairness, the old lights had seen their better days, and they were replaced by several new ones, hanging from a shiny new standard.

But enjoying their newness quickly gave way to the realization that getting through them in a timely matter isn't always the easiest. For me to get on the freeway, as I must to get to the office or most any area we cover, I must merge onto the road that leads to the freeway. A hundred or so feet from the merge is the troublesome light.

Most of the traffic that uses this road makes use of the service roads that connect the main road to the freeway; the same service road is used whether taking the freeway northbound or southbound. Since all that traffic usually crowds into the right lane - where I'm merging from - the line backs up quickly. And if I have to wait any length of time to merge, I can usually count on not making the light in one cycle.

Phew. Sorry for the tediousness; but it had to be done to understand the story.

Today, there was the typical backup in the clogged right lane. One man in a van was kind enough to let me in; when people do that, I try my best not to dawdle as a show of appreciation. I stay as close as I reasonably can to the car in front of me.

The moment of truth arrives as I approach the troublesome light. Two cars before me, it turns yellow. I correctly figure I have enough time to squeeze through - and I do, though the light was pink and going on full-blown red.

I squeezed through, but sadly, the kind gentleman behind me did not. I felt a bit of sadness as I drove on; had me not let me in, he definitely could have made the light, given the time it took me to accelerate.

What if he was really in a hurry, to a big meeting or a job interview or something else? His generousness might have raised his blood pressure more than a few points. I, merely driving to work for a quiet day, had no such concerns.

By stopping at the red light, he made the line of cars that much longer. Someone was probably back where I was, waiting to merge. Maybe they got the benefit of a kind-hearted driver; maybe they didn't. But the problem likely wasn't resolved for some time, since rush hour was an hour or so from starting.

I presume there are no back-ups at the intersection now, since it's 1:10 a.m., 12 hours away from when I drove through.

The gentleman stuck in my mind as I motored down the highway. Where was he going? Did he have some cool errand to run, or some menial task from work? Or was it a late lunch? Or, more likely, something altogether different? No matter what, his day - if only for a few moments - was made more difficult because I took him up on an offer of kindness.

In the blur of cars wizzing by on the freeway, it's hard to tell who's in a hurry and who isn't. But everyone is going somewhere. For a brief second, our lives don't cross paths, but merely run parallel to each other. Every person has a reason to be on the road, as varied as the model of car they're driving.

Speeding down the highway, there are thousands of stories coming at you in the other direction.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder that sometimes, especially when I'm on the highway at 2 a.m. and see Quebec plates.

"Hmm, are they going to Florida?"
"Does she work in D.C.?"
"Damn, this song sucks. Change the station."

-- TiVo