Typically, my commute involves a short drive, a ferry ride, a walk, a bus ride, and another walk (and then again in reverse), but every now and then I have the great misfortune of having to drive the whole way instead. During peak hours. In Seattle. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that I’m not the type of lady who gets any sort of enjoyment from driving even at the best of times. So when I say that sitting still on an interstate on ramp while rule-breaking miscreants whiz past me isn’t my cup of tea, I’m hoping that you’ll take it upon yourself to mentally round out the trope with some choice expletives.
Picture this: I’m sitting in a nice, warm car listening to Regina Spektor enjoying the fact that I left the house early enough to get where I’m going with time to spare. Then traffic lurches to a halt just ahead. Suddenly the heavy fog feels more suffocating than cozy. The other commuters are less my kindred spirits and more my arch nemeses. Somehow each and every modest Honda on the road has turned into what we refer to in our household as “douche mobiles”. It is in this moment of ghastly transformation that I know angst of adolescent proportions. Surely my life will end right here on this stretch of godforsaken pavement. Surely even if I make it through this the trauma will keep me from ever getting in my car again. Surely the gods of “the simple life” will take away my badge of honor for even being in this situation at all.
One might expect this melodrama to be the nadir of my mental health for the day, but they would be wrong. Several minutes of being stuck in the ersatz parking lot pass and reality takes hold of my brain once more. Reality soothingly reminds me that I just ate breakfast and I’ve got lunch in my backpack, so the chances of me dying in stopped traffic are slim. Reality calmly reassures me that the next time I have to drive to Seattle, I’ll dutifully set aside the trauma of today in favor of being a well-adjusted adult. Then Reality’s hug tightens a bit. I’ll continue getting into my car when necessary for the rest of the foreseeable future. The grasp Reality has on me is uncomfortably tight as the thought of continuing this drudgery for the rest of my life washes over me. Now Reality has me in a stranglehold. What is the point of this nonsense? You see, adolescent angst is, in some contexts, a nightmarish tornado of unpleasantness. But for the 20-something-year-old stuck in traffic, it is a wisp of giggling cotton candy compared to the untethered tyranny of an early-morning existential crisis.
Nothing lasts forever, though. Eventually I made it to my destination (with 3 minutes to spare!). I went on about my day administering tests to 5th graders, reading journal articles, attending class, and letting the hours separate me from the despair of that on ramp. Now, with dozens of hours between me and that on ramp, I’m still not sure I can explain what the point of sitting in traffic is. What I can explain is why I will continue to do it for as long as I have to. I’m passionate about the work I’m doing in Seattle–work that I can only accomplish there, for now. I’m also passionate about the life I’m building in Kitsap County–a life that I wouldn’t have access to if I lived in Seattle. For now, these two components of who I am are at odds, and the bridge between them is, sometimes, a traffic-jammed on ramp.
I believe that being stuck in traffic brings out the worst in all of us. Some of us break the rules so that we may pull ahead at the expense of others’ progress toward their goal. Some of us melt into pools of emotional incompetency. I can only hope that when each of us reaches our destination, we are reminded of our purpose and once again take up those good qualities with which we execute that purpose.