Kent Bernhardt: Traffic jams of life

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 13, 2016

You can tell a lot about people from the way they behave when they’re caught in a traffic jam. I’ve had more than my share of experiences with them, and I can tell you they’re quite the eye-opener.

In fact, if I were a pre-marriage counselor, I’d ride in the back seat with young couples in the front, and deliberately guide them into one just to observe their behavior.

If you can survive a traffic jam together, you can weather most marital storms.

I commute a lot, so I’ve come to realize that traffic jams occur regularly and I’ve made my peace with them. I crank up the Sirius XM ’60s channel and let the stress evaporate around me as I sing along. If I’m not going to move for a while, it’s nice to have The Beatles, Mamas and the Papas, and The Monkees along for company.

I haven’t always been that way. In my younger days, stationary traffic crawled all over my very being. It signaled that life itself was coming to a halt, and that thought was unacceptable. I was one of those people.

But now, unless I have a pending appointment, I’m the picture of calm. Well, maybe not the picture, but at least the blurry image of calm.

My fellow travelers are often not. In fact, I put them into categories.

The first category is the “Horn Blower.” Yes, there are people who still think that helps. Just like they’re in a 1950s noir movie, they lay on the horn as if the mere sound of it will part the sea of frozen traffic.

Though it’s rare to find a member of this group these days, I encountered one recently. One lone horn-blower honking in the night; blaring away like a lone hoot owl in a forest.

The rest of us stopped caring about the cause of the delay. We all wanted to gang up on that guy. And I only assume it was a guy. Women are never that impatient – are they?

I was never a horn-blower. In fact, my desire to use my car horn disappeared entirely when car manufacturers stopped making quality horns. Fifty years ago, the sound of a car horn would strike fear into the hearts of even the strongest of men. The car horn on my last vehicle sounded like a seagull with a sinus infection.

The second category is the “Not Me, Pal” fraternity. They’re the people who refuse to accept the reality of the traffic jam and immediately set out to find a way of escape.

On interstate highways, you’ll observe them sneaking their way to the first available exit via the emergency lane. Assuming they’re not apprehended by law enforcement, they feel a brief sense of elation as they make their getaway, only to become mired in the traffic of their alternate route.

This ploy rarely works, and I’ve seen too many tickets issued to members of this category to ever try it again.

The final category, I’ll call the “Happy Camper Society.” We’re the slightly more patient members of our culture who realize that sometimes, for reasons beyond our control, traffic just stops moving. There’s little we can do about it. The next exit is four miles away. You might as well spread a picnic blanket and make the best of it.

And that’s what I do these days. I crank up the radio and let the world go by.

Only you know to which group you belong. I’ll only add that if you’re a “Happy Camper,” it’s difficult being married to or even traveling with a “Horn Blower” or a member of “Not Me, Pal.”

You’ll have to endure comments like “We have to be there in ten minutes!!! Blow your horn or something!!!”

Or, “If you can just squeeze between those two cars up there and cross over that ditch, you can cut through that field and be on Highway 73 in no time…”

So kids, be careful who you marry. Or install an eject button hooked to the passenger seat.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.


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