The Road Rules

I regularly drive my tired green Saturn from New Hampshire into Massachusetts. It’s a 113-mile journey, round-trip, wrapped in Jersey barriers and traffic cones. Why do I do this? For the accomplishment? For the scenery? For the pure joy of it?

Most likely, just for the direct deposit that slides into my decidedly non-Swiss bank account every other Friday.

There are many ways to keep my mind occupied during these hour-and-a half-each-way-but-who’s-watching-the-clock trips. For example, I advance the ongoing debate in my car’s engine about whether it’s accumulating “highway” or “city” miles. I cruise along at breakneck speed, free as a bird, flying like an eagle…then SLAM! … and suddenly I’m participating in an involuntary inchworm of could-be-crunching-plastic-and-metal-but-thank-God-for-anti-lock-brakes.

As I come to a stop, I exhale the tension my yoga teacher tells me is not good for my chakras. And I crane my neck to see around the mud-covered van in front of me. Was it a momentary traffic fluke? A sudden slowdown I didn’t anticipate and never will be able to explain?

As we start moving, I lean oh-so-slightly on the gas. Dare I hope? I’m only three miles from my exit … could it be over before it began? SLAM! The inchworm suddenly returns, and this time I sigh a gust big enough to scare the fly buzzing in the back window of my car.

So how do you amuse yourself when you drive the same traffic-infested route day after day? What do you do to bring humor to your morning when you realize that the highlight of your journey is identifying where the highway department has put up new road signs?

One saving grace that keeps me out of the commuter nuthouse is the traffic reports that I access for free on a cellular phone. I often dial to get “SmarTraveler” updates throughout my trip just to entertain myself. It’s like listening to Frank Gifford give a play-by-play of all my favorite highways—only I am in control of instant replays with the touch of a few buttons.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I heard that there was a big accident on Route 3, so I chose to drive home on 93 instead. As I often do—even after making such a decision—I periodically dialed SmarTraveler just to hear how Really Big the accident was. I wanted to remind myself how Smart I really was to avoid that Big Accident. So I kept checking the travel reports to revel in the glory of the ever-increasing backups. Except in this case…they weren’t. Over and over again I dialed *1 and they just kept reporting the same thing: “SmarTraveler mobile units (who aren’t really that mobile at this moment) are reporting a 38-minute trip to the border (Could she be talking about Canada?) with minor slowdowns (sure, minor to you!) due to a left-lane accident in Billerica.”

The same recording played over and over for 15 minutes! I kept waiting for them to report a 40-minute, then a 50-minute delay. Even a 39-minute trip would have cheered me up. But it never happened.

So what is the lesson in this, I asked myself on that cool day, as I glanced once again—this time at my foolishness—in the rearview mirror? I decided I must deserve it, simply for:

1) Being so obsessive-compulsive,

2) Trying to prove how smart I was, and

3) Clogging the airwaves with such silly ego-driven activity.

So, next time I am not so quick to redial. Next time, I practice discipline. I accept the path I chose in this not-too-yellow wood, and start watching for punch-buggies instead. Or I take note of newly located Jersey barriers, and wonder what it would be like to drop one on your toe. Would it break into tiny pieces? Or would it simply smush the metacarpal permanently?

Meanwhile, the SmarTraveler gurus have been working on other ways to penalize me for slowing down their system—short telephomercials. They finally figured out that nothing in this world has to be truly free. So not only do I hear about Avis or the SmarTraveler television station (on channel 3 in most communities) each time I call, but I have to listen to such a message each time I check the status of any single road! Because I drive three roads—Routes 3, 93, and 128—I soon figured out all the time I save using SmarTraveler is now lost to listening to commercials.

So maybe now I just dial SmarTraveler three times, instead of twelve. Or perhaps I am so busy speeding up and slowing down that I don’t even have time to dial *1.

In any case, I am fine, as long as I keep faithfully making the trip.