Magical, mysterious traffic jams

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By Will Phillips

Have you ever been stuck in traffic? I don’t mean that you were forced to go 55 in a 65. I’m talking about being really stuck. I mean, the car is parked, locked and you’re out on the side of the interstate cursing your luck and calling your boss to beg his understanding.

Last week, I found myself about half a mile behind a huge accident on I-71 on my way into work. I sat in traffic for two hours with little sign of movement. Of course, the other people who were stuck around me were also frustrated and fidgety, so a few particularly intelligent travelers decided to take to the emergency lane in an effort to bypass the stoppage.

It did not work.

So now, with three lanes of blocked traffic on a two-lane highway, a tow truck tried to make his way down to the accident. In order to do so, a couple of truck drivers got out of their vehicles and signaled for cars to move to the leftmost emergency lane. We did so and the truck managed to work his way down to the accident. Afterward, I decided I was tired of sitting in the car and took to the road. I locked my car and left it sitting while I conversed with my fellow man.

After a while we ended up sitting underneath an overpass laughing as some people tried to turn around and go south on a northbound interstate. Eventually, of course, we all got to move on (by turning around, as it ended up), but for just a few minutes we were all more than cars on the highway. For just a bit, we were people again.

It’s easy to get caught up in your commute. I’m as bad as anyone when it comes to road rage. When people cut me off on the road, I usually think briefly about running them down and wrecking them. Of course, I don’t do it (that you know of), but the thought is there for a split second.

If we hadn’t come up on this accident, I very well could’ve had that thought about one of the people I ended up talking to for over an hour.

In the end, I made it to work (albeit three hours late) and the day continued on as normal. Shockingly, there were no fatalities in the wreck and they finished clearing the debris at 3:30 that afternoon. But for a little while, just for a couple of hours, my commute was more than just the requisite time that it takes me to get to and home from work. It was an event. It was a story. For a brief, beautiful moment, we all were more than metal pods racing down the road. We were people, united by our frustration, but forced to communicate by our circumstances.

There’s something wonderful in that. You may say that it’s stupid and sentimental to view a traffic jam as a moment of clarity, but that’s what it was. Maybe it’s callous to say that someone else’s misfortune offered me an opportunity to get my priorities straight and just take a moment to breathe, but that’s what happened.

Maybe we could use a few more traffic jams. Maybe we need to stop and take inventory sometimes and realize what’s really important in life.

Or maybe I’m just looking too far into a situation that everyone experiences at some point. I suppose I could live with that.