Jam

Choke-Point
"I might settle into this fresh reality, but probably not."

The Muse and I call a narrow convergence home. Several busy roads merge into a single six-lane vulnerable to all the usual vagaries. I often choose to take one of the two most prominent two-lane alternatives rather than try to drive my camel through that needle's eye, though sometimes, even the back routes close down. A surprise Spring snowstorm can shut down the whole shebang, leaving us stranded along the way. Clogs are common, flow disruptions expected, except when they aren't. It seems to be the nature of traffic jams that they only occur when least expected and therefore least prepared for. We can't live in a constant state of readiness, and the demon traffic gods understand this, waiting for peak inattention to strike.

A seemingly small slowdown.
Courtesy reigns. The edges close in quickly, though, and options shrivel. Tempers bloom. I have the choice between forward and forward, and forward's blocked. Nobody knows what's happening ahead. Another truck fire? These seem routine. One morning we encountered about a third of an elk (cut longways, neck to hindquarter) straddling two of the downhill lanes. Traffic on the three opposite direction lanes above us was stopped cold. Someone up there had apparently sideswiped the beast, propelling part of it over the separating cliff, a hundred feet or more down into our lanes. We slipped through, suddenly planning to take one of the alternate route for our return trip. Those poor devils up top, though, might idle for hours. Once committed to the freeway, there are no alternatives.

I believe that a person's character only fully emerges when slowly suffocating at some choke point. Until then, so many options exist that one need not be much of a chameleon to successfully navigate. Sidelined, though, with a groaning cement mixer to your right, a rusting Ford Fairlane to your left, and a line of stalled vehicles stretching to beyond the horizons front and back, an authentic self seems unavoidable. Of course you'll regret not taking that opportunity to pee before you left. No amount of clever re-plotting could possibly change your trajectory now. Motorcyclists take to the margins to zoom ahead. Everyone else remains simply jammed. Time, ever helpful, slows way down. I need to pee more urgently.

Cell phones come out. Radio stations scanned. Nobody knows nothing then. Almost nobody, curiously, turns off their engine, either, but then it's either waaaaay below freezing out, or vying to set a high temperature record. Our magical conveyance into a chosen future becomes inescapably stuck in a disconcerting present. That present seems to go on forever. Previous plans evaporate and sorries get shared via text messages you hope will get through. Cell service suddenly sucks. My mind races, sorting unlikely scenarios, leaving my body behind. I watch myself choosing when I have only one choice left. I experience one of the purer forms of denial. I sort through how I might change my sorry lifestyle to avoid such disconcerting dilemmas in the future, though I have no future, only a rejected present.

These experiences pass, but only after singeing their brand into my psyche. We live at a choke point, where options converge into one primary path and two two-lane alternatives, neither of which we can access once we've committed to that primary path. I usually choose to take one of the roads less traveled unless I'm pressed for time, in which case I might find time suddenly rendered irrelevant as the choke point closes around my imperative. What do I do then? I might take the opportunity to survey scenery I've never really seen, having only zoomed by it in fifth gear anticipating whatever's up ahead. I could roll down the window and see if this space might enter into the vehicle intended to be mere conveyance and not my sudden classroom. I will fume instead, exhibiting one of the rarer vintages of myself, one I hardly recognize and immediately regret. I might settle into this fresh reality, but probably not. Gratefully, and not for long.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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