While reading Comparative Geeks post on Saturday, in which he spoke about traffic and other drivers as “the enemy”, I was reminded of when I lived in Los Angeles and was faced with long, stressful traffic situations almost every time I left the house. I learned to travel on surface streets so I would not have to get on the freeways. Even up here in Oregon, where I now live, I avoid traffic at all costs. I don’t go into town (I’m about 20 minutes from Portland proper) during peak hours. In fact, I rarely go into downtown Portland. I don’t even know where City Hall is or Pioneer Square. I see these places on TV all the time but I couldn’t tell you where they’re at.
It also reminded me of something I was told long ago that has left its mark on me. In fact, I can’t remember the man’s name. He was my ex-husband’s uncle by marriage. I think it was a sort of “half uncle by marriage” as the wife was the “half aunt”. Okay, if you’re still with me, that’s good. I only met them maybe three times. They came to see the baby when my son was born. That was the first time (in 1982). Then we saw them again at my father-in-law’s funeral. They were staying in the same motel that my kids and I were staying in so we had breakfast with them a couple of times. I didn’t see them after that, even though they lived about 30 minutes away. The husband, I cannot remember his name but I know it was something simple like John or Don or Bob, was an air traffic controller at LAX. He lived in Pacoima, which is only a 28 mile drive, about 35 minutes in the best of traffic conditions. However, during commute times, when he had to go to work, he said it would take him about an hour and 45 minutes to get there, ditto on the way back. I remarked that I wouldn’t want to be him on those lost hours of commute time as it must be very frustrating to be sitting in traffic. He said something that has stuck with me all these years (since 1994). He said it used to bother him and he would arrive at work very keyed up which wasn’t a good way to begin a shift as anything, let alone an air traffic controller at one of the busiest airports in the world. He said that he had made a conscious effort to not let himself get upset or frustrated. He would put on a book on tape (those were cassette days, not CD days) and pretend that he was on his way to the Executioner so each minute of delay was actually something good. With this point of view, he said, he didn’t get frustrated. He actually welcomed the minutes sitting in traffic and got to enjoy a lot of books on his way to and from work!
That has stayed with me all of these years and although I no longer remember his name, I remember his wisdom. Every time I get stuck in traffic, I think of his words and I’m not upset anymore. Let the other drivers weave in and out of traffic. Let the other drivers get frustrated and honk. I just sit and wait and know that I will get there soon enough.