Each and every time I find myself in a traffic jam I take a brief voyage back in time. I am transported to certain moments in time where my late father realized that he needed to drive the short distance to one of his favorite grocery stores before it was too late. Too late for what ? , one would wonder. After all, he was a retiree and didn’t need to keep up a schedule. Despite his retirement, my dad had a definite daily routine schedule which only varied with the turn of the seasons. Sitting in front of the TV was not part of his daily fare, nor was being generally idle an alternative. As soon as the sun rose he would make himself a half cup of coffee and then have a grapefruit. These two items were to get the juices flowing as he was wont to say. The scrambled eggs and bacon or a bowl of Quaker Oats would follow within an hour. Providing that the weather was clement, he would spend a good part of his waking hours tending to his flower garden and the golf course style lawn. He couldn’t wait to get his hands in the soil as soon as Spring arrived. Summers were no different.
The words I hear from my driver’s seat during a case of grid-lock are these :
“Well, I guess I’d better be gettin’ cleaned up and get to the store. The traffic is so heavy at this time of day. I don’t want to get stuck at that long light on Baldwin Avenue when the shift changes. Not for the few items I have to pick up. But I’ve done my homework and made out my list. Things have gotten so high, why between some stores there is as much as a 25 cent difference in price on a gallon of milk.
Can’t forget my cane. I‘ve got one propped up just about everywhere, just in case I need it. But I always leave my good and sturdy one in the car, my third leg.
I‘ve put on a clean shirt and I guess these pants will do. I have only had them on for a couple of times for an hour or two. I always change into my work clothes once I get home. Just like I used to do back home on the farm after school. I even shaved. If ol’ Max were still around he’d just love the scent of my aftershave. Sure do miss the ol’ boy. I’ll just leave a little note tellin’ that I’ve just gone up to the store. Just in case someone stops by. If they remember that I keep an extra key on the hook inside the garage they can just let themselves in. Now I’ve gotta get the move on so that I don’t get caught by that three o’clock shop traffic.”
This is my daughter’s revery as I sit and wait for my turn to go through the intersection. Seen through this sort of memory tunnel, traffic jams do not irritate me. At such times I sort through my trunk-full of cherished moments: The black interior of my car inevitably reminds me of the black interior of the yellow Ford Maverick I learned to drive in. My Dad referred to himself as my co-pilot and navigator. I catch the scent of his Old Spice after shave and the sweetness of the Wrigley’s spearmint gum he had a habit of chewing while driving; always half a stick at a time. I can still hear his voice . He was the best and most patient instructor. His cars were always clean inside and out from the door handles to the motor. Just yesterday I sat in a traffic jam for about twenty minutes. It seemed as if everyone in the immediate area had all left their offices at the same time on the eve of May 1st, a public holiday in most European countries, to get their commutes to France, Belgium, Germany or even somewhere in tiny Luxembourg underway so that the day off could be enjoyed to the fullest. While I idled in my car listening to some energetic baroque music I looked up and noticed that a car with Belgian plates sported a rather unique personalized license plate.
A picture is worth a thousand words according to a Chinese proverb and many more recent wise men and women. Nearly a decade has passed since I last heard my father mention the heavy traffic at the long light at the entrance of the Pontiac Motor Plant near his home. But that changes nothing to how I react to a traffic jam, or how I prepare myself to avoid one if I need to arrive somewhere punctually congested traffic or not.