I lost my mind in holiday traffic.
Leaving Long Island is an expensive hassle, so all of our departures are optimized to their greatest potential. On Memorial Day Weekend, Phil and I planned another getaway where, in a span of 50 hours, we tried to spend time with everyone we’ve ever met. In this next trick, the great Dillon-Lombardo duo will attempt to be in four different places at once.
Our first appointment was lunch at 12:30pm. The drive should take 1.5 hours, so we left at 10:15. Plenty of time, right? Obviously not, or I wouldn’t have had a meltdown in the passenger’s seat, and this would be the end of a pretty lame story.
We opted to take the Merritt Parkway to avoid inevitable congestion on I95, the Northeast’s coastal highway. But, of course, we eventually arrived at a sea of red brake lights, and slowed to a halt in New Rochelle.
Although neither of us have smart phones, we do have a GPS with traffic updates, which informed us of 12 miles of traffic on the Merritt and only 6 miles on I95. Afraid the 12 miles of traffic on the Merritt would make us late, we took a risk, got off the next exit, and crossed the town through residential streets to arrive at I95.
We gloated about our clever thinking for approximately four miles. Then we passed a highway notification sign reading, “Delay 20 miles.”
“Does that mean delay for 20 miles or delay in 20 miles?” I asked, trying to keep my panic down.
“In,” Phil said, although his confidence was hollow. “In.”
Not five minutes later, Phil’s foot lifted off the accelerator, and we joined the crawl.
“I don’t think it’s been 20 miles,” I said.
It’s 11:45. You still have plenty of time. No need to worry. You’ll make it. Just relax. Listen to the music.
That worked for the first mile. 19 more to go.
“Man, I hate traffic,” I said, trying to seem charming and upbeat, but it sounded deranged, even to my ears.
“Yup, but what can you do?” Phil said.
“You think it’s really backed up for 20 miles? That’d be crazy, wouldn’t it?” I was beginning to sweat.
“Probably not. It’s gotta clear up.”
I groaned, and then laughed as if my groan was a joke. Good one.
Twenty minutes had passed and our car was rolling along, slowly approaching the Connecticut border. I could feel the frustration simmering in my stomach acid. I clenched my teeth.
I stretched out my back and tried to coax the increasing agitation into relaxation. People are late all the time, and they don’t seem to let it bother them. I can be late for once. It wouldn’t be a big deal. Nobody will care. Plus, like Phil said, there isn’t anything I can do about it, so I might as well just go with it.
“Oh my gosh, this is so annoying!” I said and groaned again. Louder this time, and without the follow-up laugh.
Deep, exasperated sigh.
“If it keeps up like this, we could be an hour late,” I said, now clearly disgruntled.
I glanced down at the GPS, whose traffic indicator flashed green. It reported smooth sailing. No traffic. According to the GPS, we should have been cruising along, and I’d still get to lunch on time. I looked up at the infinite line of automobiles, at the obstacles in my way, moving at the pace of a carwash conveyer belt, and I decided that everything that was wrong with my life– living far from family and friends, unpublished books, the cost of health insurance, weight gain– was the fault of this very traffic.
“I hate traffic!” I yelled and slapped my leg. The rage inside me fought its way to the surface and was clawing at my skin, desperate to get out. If I released it, I knew I’d transform into a savage ape, grabbing the door handles on either end of the car, and rocking it side to side until I tipped the whole thing over. The glass would shatter and I’d swing out the window, hurtle from car roof to car roof, smashing every vehicle and passenger on my route, until finally arriving at the lunch rendezvous point, only five or ten minutes late. It took great concentration to keep this wrath repressed. I panted to maintain control.
Phil’s eyes darted over to me, startled, uncertain. Then they returned to the road. Avoiding eye contact seemed best.
It was now 12:30pm– the time we were supposed to meet for lunch– and we’d only made it halfway through the traffic. The restaurant was a mere 15 or so miles away, but mileage itself no longer mattered. I had no control over my destiny; I would be 45 minutes late. And since my friend had to leave at 2pm, I would see him for half the time. It was prudent to accept that.
I gazed despondently at my future ahead. I felt hope deflate like the air from my tires from sitting on the highway for so damn long.
I started to cry.
Phil did a cartoon double take. I’m not a frequent crier. It’d been months since my last cry. Plus, I was crying over traffic of all things.
“Do you really think they’ll even care that we’re late?” he asked gently, but in a way that implied the answer was obvious and maybe, just maybe, I was overreacting.
But reason could not stop me. My meltdown had to follow its course: mild annoyance, aggravation, anger, Hulkish fury, despair, apathy. We were in the final stages.
“I just really hate traffic when I have somewhere to be,” I said between sobs. In my misery, I contemplated all of life’s little injustices: slowing metabolisms; the negative correlation between price and quality of airport food; NBC canceling Awake even though it was decent enough; patroning a restaurant without realizing they just posted a Groupon; teenagers securing book deals; and, of course, being late despite having allowed yourself plenty of time. I mourned these wrongs for a few moments, wrung out my lower lids to prevent puffiness, sniffled, swallowed and stopped.
Then I shifted into the last gear of meltdown.
For the next 9 miles of traffic, I experienced no emotion. I was a hollow shell. A vegetable along for the ride. Every car was a given. Every mile was no surprise. Even when it cleared in Norwalk, after the full 20 promised miles, and there was no accident to explain the backup, no construction work, no dead moose on the side of the road to justify rubbernecking, I felt nothing. I wasn’t outraged by having experienced what I did for nothing; I didn’t rejoice that the ordeal was over. It just was. Things just were. The damage was done.
The rest of the weekend, including lunch, went smoothly. As expected, my friends didn’t care I was late. In fact, they might give me a harder time now, knowing I punched things, cried, and then turned comatose.
But even a week later, I still believe sitting in that traffic was a version of hell fit for, if not the scum of humanity, then the assholes of humanity. I’d wish it on very few people.
I do have one in mind, however, inspired by a song that came on the radio while we were in traffic. To whoever wrote, “Barbie Girl”…. an eternity of I95 on a holiday weekend is waiting for you. And I hope you’ve got somewhere to be.