Monday, August 30, 2010

The Juggernaut of the Apocalypse

Traffic is something I don't have to worry about on a daily basis anymore; not that it was ever that bad around here, anyway. I remember sitting on the beltway around D.C. for three hours one morning on the way to Monticello, and I inched along for an hour and a half on one stretch of road when we drove to South Carolina this summer, but I've certainly never experienced anything like the 11-day traffic jam they had in China last week.

The hours I spend behind the wheel have gone from onerous to almost non-existent this fall, with Walker no longer in "traveling soccer" and me no longer commuting two days a week. I think it's got to be better for my stress level, despite the drawbacks of underemployment, to not have to wear "the face of anyone stuck in traffic" as described in this poem by Jim Powell:

The Juggernaut of the Apocalypse

Rush hour backed up bumper to bumper in all directions
spewing carcinogenic petrochemical smog
the drivers and the driven
bent to the wheel, stalled in toxic buyproducts,
everyone hunched facing the same way:

when the juggernaut of the apocalypse
reaches the brink of the abyss and starts over
in our relentless progress
about to plummet to the final crash
eyes averted in the rearview mirror

the ecocidal maniac behind the wheel
wearing the face of anyone stuck in traffic, fuming,
wrinkles of resentment
from a lifetime of biting back sharp words
pinched down tight at the corners of the mouth

meaning to get ahead at any cost and not
let anyone in, protected by
a blank look like a mask
as if it were the car that drives itself
through the streets of a city already dead.

The image of the car that drives itself is not too far removed from how I look at other peoples' cars. When I first moved to this rural area, friends would say "I passed you on the road and waved, but you didn't wave back" and I would say "oh, I don't look INSIDE other cars." The truth is, I still don't; but now I know what kinds of cars my friends drive and have memorized their license plates for good measure.

You can take the ecocidal maniac off the road, I guess, but you can't change her habits entirely. As George Carlin has pointed out, a maniac is anyone who drives faster than you...or who would like to.


Harriet M. Welsch said...

I don't look inside other cars either, but I've learned the art of the prophylactic wave. My bigger social faux pas, however, is that when I'm in the grocery store, I don't look at other people. My next door neighbor once came over and shook me by the shoulder to say hello. He said he'd been calling me for a while. I was too busy figuring out what kind of pasta I needed to hear him.

kittiesx3 said...

This poem was written for my 130 mile a day commute.

I fear my mouth is going to get stuck in that disapproving expression. I've been known to mutter "I hate people" when the last four miles of my commute takes 60 minutes.

Amanda said...

We chose our current house based on proximity to Jason's work. His commute is less than 15 mins, which is impressive in San Antonio.

Karen said...

wrinkles of resentment/ from a lifetime of biting back sharp words/ pinched down tight at the corners of the mouth

These were the lines that rang true for me: how bitterness and resentment do (lastingly) change people!

The commute, well, I can't identify with at the moment.

PAJ said...

As a person living in the nation's most-populated state (NJ), which also has the busiest roadway(s) in the country, I'm just not understanding the line "biting back sharp words." There's no biting back of words going on around here!
Immediately after we moved here from small-town Texas, I got my fair share of horn honks, hand motions, and lip-read curses from other drivers. After 3 years here, I can report that most of my car trips are uneventful, and I am thankful that (most days), I'm not honking, waving, or cursing at others.

FreshHell said...

I look inside cars but often, when someone honks at me (and my years of city living have taught me to ALWAYS ignore a honk) I usually can't see in because of the glare. There are a couple of cars I recognize but not always.

Since moving out to the country I do a LOT more driving but it's not on highways, mostly, and so the only traffic jam I encounter is the truck or old lady going 10 miles below the speed limit.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I hate sitting in traffic. I'm not sure I'd survive a job where I had a long commute. Even if the 20 or so minutes I end up driving now just makes me grouchy and so glad to be home at the end of the day. I loved the poem, too.

Jeanne said...

Harriet, I do that in the grocery store--the good thing about living in a small town with a lot of academics, though, is that I'm not alone!

Elizabeth, getting stuck when you're so near home must be excrutiating!

Amanda, that's the thing to do if you can. Most of the commuting I know of is done by a spouse who lives near the other person's work but has to drive to find a job for herself. We live five minutes away from where Ron works.

Karen, I've heard lots of people with kids the age of yours who say that they've changed their way of expressing resentment on the road!

PAJ, I figured the person biting back the words had an impressionable child in the back seat! I remember when my kids began using the word "idiot"...

Freshhell, nothing makes me spew more invective than being behind an old lady!

Kim, I do think (as Karen says) that the poem is about how grouchiness becomes a habit, a way of dealing with others. Everyone has to spend some time on the road these days.

Care said...

My first year in college when my brother and I would drive the 2 1/2 hours home down country roads, we would always have a game of how many people would wave back to us when we would meet them. The world would seem a much friendlier place - the old farmers ALWAYS wave if they know you or not.