Monday, August 31, 1998

Week of 08/31/1998

Commuting Chaos
A lighthearted rant of automotive anarchy
- by David Matthews 2

As some people know, I’m not yet a successful writer. That means I have to do other things to pay the bills. Bill collectors are known to have very creative imaginations, but for the life of them, they can’t envision me paying them when I’m successful enough to do so. They usually want money right then and there. So when I’m not slaving over my own computer, I’m slaving over a computer terminal for a major international corporation.

It also means I have to commute to that bill-paying job every weekday. It’s not an easy task considering that, like many metro Atlanta residents, I have to drive an hour to and from work. It’s not necessarily the distance that really gets to me. I go through some pretty scenic areas through the northern part of Lake Lanier. In fact, if all I had to deal with was the scenery, it would be a relaxing and otherwise nondescript journey that I would make readily.

Unfortunately, I have to share these tax-paid roads with other vehicles. Therein lies the source of endless stress and aggravation.

For those of you who read my online columns in the scenic countryside, I’m sure you’ve gotten the idea of traffic problems being nothing but miles upon miles of cars stalled on the highways. There’s a reason why metro highways are called "Parkways," and that reason is often provided via live chopper reports every five to ten minutes. But unfortunately, what you usually see is the end result, not the madcap that causes it.

Ever see Mel Gibson in "Mad Max"? Well, while some people call that an apocalyptic movie, Atlanta residents call that the daily commute.

The posted speed limit on most of the highways outside of the city limits is anywhere between 65 and 70 miles per hour. Mind you, that’s the posted speed limit. The average speed is just beneath the sound barrier. If you’re driving down one of these highways and your speedometer isn’t spiked, you’re still driving too slow.

But despite what the police think about speeders, it’s not the speed that cause so many traffic problems. Indeed, as long as the drivers are allowed to make their journey down the highway, I think you’ll find that speed is not the real issue behind our vehicle madness, but rather the 1000 points of insanity who are further proof that anyone can get a drivers license.

Let’s go over some of these wannabe Death Race 2000 contestants:

The Cell-heads: Thanks to modern telecommunication technology, there now exists a breed of drivers who operate with a piece of plastic and silicon seemingly glued to their ears. You know, once upon a time, car phones used to be bulky devices that were easily detected by those oversized black Q-tip antennas. They used to be expensive to purchase and install, so the only the real elite assholes like doctors, lawyers, agents, corporate suits, and politicians could afford them. But now, car phones have given way to cell phones, and are so cheap to afford that any ordinary asshole can use one, and too often they do, constantly.

You would think that such a device would only be used for extreme emergencies. After all, that’s what most people say they get cell phones for, right? But, truth be told, if you were to catch one of them driving down the road with a piece of plastic in their ear, they’re probably calling the local radio station to complain about what they just heard from Neal Boortz, or calling their friend to see if they heard what Boortz just said on the air. And if it’s not Boortz, then it’s Jeff Hullinger, or the Regular Guys on 96 Rock, or the Morning X crew on 99X, or some contest going on where if you’re the 33rd caller you win ear-bleed front speaker tickets to some no-name concert the radio station is sponsoring. Either way, these cell-heads don’t have their full concentration on the road because they’re trying to drive and talk at the same time, and if it’s in the morning, they’re also juggling a cup of scalding hot coffee between their legs.

Common sense would tell the cell-heads to pull off the road if they want to talk on the phone. Unfortunately, if they listened to common sense, they would’ve skipped the obvious geek trap and bought a car phone with a speaker in the first place!

The Tammy Faye Girls: Okay, so not everyone gets up in time to get completely ready for work, and maybe putting on some touches of lipstick before getting out of the car may be in order for some women, but going down the road at mach one while putting on eyeliner probably falls under the same dangerous category as trying to give yourself a bikini wax behind the wheel.

Ladies, one of the key elements in driving is being able to see where you are on the road. You can’t see that if you have your face stuck up in the vanity mirror trying to impersonate Tammy Faye Baker.

Of course, it’s not just a female phenomena.. I actually saw one guy not only brush his teeth, but also FLOSS while driving! I just don’t want to be around the vehicle where the driver gives themselves a sponge bath!

The Department Of Transportation: Probably Georgia’s most visible pork project around. You know that the folks who run that department have the sweetest deal around just because of all the growth going on in Atlanta.

Is there anyplace in the whole Metropolitan Atlanta area that isn’t at one time under repair or expansion? Every time I turn around, there’s a bridge that’s getting closed, or a road being detoured.

I would also like to know which sadistic DOT bureaucrat is responsible for letting highway mowers travel down heavily utilized single-lane roads during rush hour just so they can sit and wait at their appointed destination. Look, folks, the roads are maddening enough, never mind getting behind some guy who seemingly takes pleasure in holding up traffic so he can move an oversized piece of farm equipment at twenty miles an hour. It wouldn’t be too bad if he wasn’t getting paid more money than me to do that job.

Construction Charity: If you’re ever short a ladder, be sure to listen to the traffic reports, because sooner or later one of those subcontractor trucks will make a generous deposit in the middle of the highway. It’s first come, first get. Just don’t hit it as you pass over it, because it’ll do a number on your suspension. They also deposit lumber and nails, but those things are a bit harder to snag while going at mach one.

Traffic Light Limbo: If you’ve been at any busy intersection during rush hour, you’ve probably encountered this uncomfortable situation. You’re at a four-way stop, traffic is packed, and the cars are moving slowly across the intersection. Then the light turns red on the other side and yours turn green. But the cars on that side haven’t stopped. They still continue to go through the intersection, which means you either can wait for these rude people to decide when red means stop, or join the Death Race Derby and ram them out of your way as an object lesson to the other inconsiderate idiots.

Or how about this one: A steady stream of traffic is through the intersection when the light turns red. The folks at the stop light do stop, but the folks in the intersection haven’t been allowed to get out of the intersection, and they’re blocking you from moving. What then? You want to go, but so do the people who are blocking you.

There’s a sign post in your mind.. you’ve just entered.. the Traffic Light Limbo.

Kid-pooling: With the start of fall, there come the dreaded return of school. I don’t know which groups of people dread school worse - the kids, or the drivers.

First off, there’s the school busses. These oversized yellow monstrosities that pick up kids at seemingly every intersection and mailbox on the road. But these are the least of our aggravations. The bus drivers at least have enough sense to know that when they’re holding up traffic, they pull over for the other drivers to continue on their way. The number one aggravators for traffic are the parents who decide that that yellow behemoth isn’t good enough to transport their precious little Johnny Dimple or Suzy Purebred. So they take the time and effort (and our aggravation) to drive their kids to school themselves, which makes matters worse if your commute takes you near any school because then you have to deal with the busses AND these overprotective parents.

Look folks, here’s a hint - there’s an excellent kid-pooling program that’s in place that you already pay for through your taxes. Matter of fact, anyone who owns property in your county has to pay for this kid-pooling program through their property taxes. Why not take advantage of that program instead of making life miserable for the rest of us?

Political Lane-Changers - So you think the car in front of you is going to turn right, huh? How do you know? Because he has his right turn signal on? And that’s supposed to mean.. what? That he’ll actually TURN right? Folks, we drive our vehicles in Atlanta like our politicians act. That blinking little light is not a true indicator as to where that vehicle will be heading! Matter of fact, in all likelihood, he’ll be turning left the moment that little light goes out. There! See? Left turn right in front of that SUV carrying a family of six. Boy, that van driver must be new to Atlanta by the way he slammed on his brakes!

Miracle Motorists - No, I’m not talking about the folks who have competing fish symbols on the back of their vehicles (my fish says "JESUS" in Latin, so I’m more religious than you and your simple fish with a cross at the eye! God loves me more than you!)… I’m talking about the folks who drive vehicles that are just two wads of gum and a bumper sticker shy from falling apart. A lot of folks think this kind of vehicle is an eyesore at best and an environmental nightmare at worst. Me? I think these are the best highway skits in the world! I mean, as long as these things aren’t directly in front of your car, you’re always wondering if it’s going to start flying apart at Mach one, leaving driver just hovering overhead in his seat like some Warner Brothers cartoon!

Rubbernecking Witnesses - Hey, did you know there’s an accident about a half a mile ahead of you? Yeah, one guy smacked his BMW into the back of woman driving an SUV. He probably would’ve seen the SUV except he was paying attention to the traffic jam on the other side of the highway. Some poor loser over there bumped his Saab into an Audi because they were too busy looking at the dog that got hit in your lane an hour ago. So that’s why you’re going to be two hours late getting into work.

And lastly.. If you’ve ever wondered where the cops are during all these vehicular carnage, you should be assured that when they’re not cleaning up the carnage in our little auto anarchy we call the highways, they’re running radar and seeing how many cars can go from mach one to fifty-five, which causes even more traffic jams because everyone is slamming their brakes so they won’t have to make a forced donation to the county treasury. Of course, not everyone can brake as fast as the folk in front of them, so more accidents happen, thus causing more pileups on the freeways.

You know, I think the solution to this would be simple: Just drop all pretense about safety on the highways and just declare them to be the Georgia Autobahn! Or better yet, we can make Georgia 400 into one big all-out road race! Heck, it already has the right kind of name for it anyways! We just need to call ESPN or SportsSouth to do the play-by-play information. Anyone can get on it as long as they’re willing to put their employer’s logo on the side of their car.

Then again, considering the number of cars that do get to their destination in one piece, I think that any sponsor would go broke in awards.

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