My evening commute is not usually a terribly long one. I live fewer than fifteen miles from work, so even with rush hour commuter traffic I can usually get from office to driveway in twenty minutes, give or take. The worst part of it usually comes after I cross the Ohio River into Kentucky and start to head up a steep curving hill on I-75 out of the valley. For some reason, drivers feel compelled to take their time getting up that hill; I may never quite figure out why. Theorists claim that it’s caused by either the big bright, yellow orb in the sky waiting to meet unprepared motorists at the top or perhaps because commuters around here like to pretend they’re climbing that first, steep, chain-rattling, anticipation-building hill of a rollercoaster after a hard day.
Whatever the reason, it’s the only place in the continental US where I’ve seen drivers regularly ride their brakes going uphill.
Traffic going up the hill tonight was even slower than normal. As I reached the top, a grin creased my face at the thought of clearing all the congestion. I was nearly there. Admittedly, it’s not quite as exhilarating as cresting a rollercoaster peak, but when you finally get to press down on the accelerator and break away from the pack of cars you’ve been stop-and-going with for the previous 4 miles, well, it’s the closest many of us 9-5ers get to feeling free on a weekly basis.
But when I crested that hill tonight, I had to apply the brakes. Complete stop. One hundred yards ahead of me, I could see the expressway. Empty. Between me and all that open road were three police cruisers. They’d closed my route home, and I had no chance to bypass. I was stuck. At a dead stop. Going nowhere.
As soon as I was immobile, I checked my rearview mirror, because that’s what you do when you make an unexpected full stop on the interstate; you check to make sure you’re not about to receive an uninvited delivery to the rear bumper. Luckily, I was safe. The guy behind me was paying attention. He was also apparently not happy with our situation, because I saw his lips form the words, “What the” followed by something that starts with ‘f’ and rhymes with duck.
My first thought was to agree. Yes, brother, proclaim! WTF, indeed! Don’t they know who I am? I’m the inestimable Puddin; my family awaits and I need to get home in time to compose several hundred words about drafting Fantasy Football teams or maybe lemon bars (because you can never tell with me), so as to enlighten and entertain the masses! You can’t keep me here! Release me, I say!
But then I realized that I was alone with a Reds game (which means Marty and the Cowboy on the radio) under a beautiful blue sky with temperatures in the mid-70s. Yes, a beach would have been preferable to the middle of I-75, but I’ll take what I can get. I gave my grousing up and settled in to enjoy some impromptu me time.
Three or four minutes later, a traffic helicopter few over. Oddly, it made a pass and then circled back around. Then it started to hover and very slowly descend. At that point I realized it wasn’t a traffic helicopter; it was AirCare, and it was landing.
Of course, since I’m a huge dork, I got out of my car to get a better view of the chopper touching down. The last time I saw one land that close I was, well, let’s just say it was before I realized girls could be okay people.
I stood there by the side of the road and watched the AirCare crew do their job and take off. The road reopened shortly afterward and traffic started moving again. Once rolling, though, I pressed the gas less aggressively than before and leisurely enjoyed the rest of my ride home. Because while I watched the emergency personnel do their jobs, I realized how glad I was not to have gotten bent out of shape by the fact that my ride home from work was slightly inconvenienced.
It was twenty or thirty minutes of my life, tops. For someone on that helicopter it was an awful lot more than that.
There but for the grace of God, right?
We spend a lot of time, like tiny ants, doing the things that need to be done. We’re in constant motion because life is short, too short to let your goals and dreams slip by for even a day or a week unfulfilled.
So you wait to really enjoy your life until you get the things done that you hope will make you finally happy with it. And maybe that’ll work. But it’s a big risk to spend so much time speeding from A to B while never really enjoying the space in between.
That space is where the good stuff lies. Even if it’s just a leisurely drive on a concrete expressway on a mild, late summer’s evening.
Slow down, people, B will be there when you get there. And if not, C will be along before too long.
Slow down, and enjoy the ride.