I Am Not Yet a Curmudgeon

Jerry Seinfeld made a fortune by asking questions in a funny way about ironic circumstances. “How about those little old ladies that dress their dogs up in costumes? What’s with that? I mean–a poodle dressed like a pirate, with an eyepatch and striped shirt? A chihuahua dressed up like Pancho Villa, complete with a hat and ammo belt. Where will it end?”

Then there was Emily Litella–the Gilda Radnor character from the early days of SNL. Emily, a beleaguered older woman with a stretched-out sweater and a creaky little voice. She would complain that she didn’t understand one thing or another, like why there was such a fuss about violins on television. She would go on and on about the virtues of violin music until Jane Curtain, the SNL News anchor woman, would cut her off to explain that the complaint was really about VIOLENCE on television. Emily would meekly respond, “Oh, I understand now. Thank you, Jane.” Then, she would pause, and follow up with her trademark retort, “Bitch.”

And, there was Andy Rooney. He was OK. Sometimes insightful. Sometimes provocative. I found him amusing at first–that is for the first 50 appearances. He did the same feature on 60 Minutes for years and years. However, his schtik was a bit too repetitive for my tastes. 

I may be channeling Andy Rooney, but, I have to get something off of my chest. I had to drive down to Washington, D.C. for meetings in December and then again this week. I do not mind driving, and I don’t mind driving my car to the nation’s capitol. However, both times I have had to leave late into the evening, after dark, and drive down in pouring rain. The December trip was particularly awful–terrible visibility, tons of traffic, and too many roads that were covered with standing water. This time, the weather was not so bad and the rain pretty much let up south of Baltimore. But, that is not the nature of my complaint.

It’s red lights. I am usually a patient driver. I try to leave my house in a timely manner so that I don’t fret about being late or feel the kinds of pressures that lead one to road rage or one-finger salutes–something I gave up years ago. Had a lot to do with maturity and a little bit to do with guns–especially the gun that the other guy might be carrying. Heck. I’m not stupid; I do not have a death wish. 

Anyway. I was FRUSTRATED. Here it was late, and getting later, and I was forced to stop at red light after red light as I made my way to and through Newark, and on down the road to the I-95 ramp. Traffic control is important. Traffic lights are a necessary part of this. I get that. But, I had to stop time after time at lights where there was no cross traffic. There was no car that triggered the change from green to red in my direction. No car approaching. NO CAR.

On my trip back home this afternoon, I counted the lights. There are about twenty lights between my house and the big road. On Wedneday evening, between 8:20 and 9:00 p.m., I encountered seven red lights where there were no other cars around. That’s 35% of the lights. Over one third of the lights I approached turned red and stayed red for an inordinate amount of time. I kid you not.

What a waste. Of time, of energy (my car sitting there idling in the rain), and of patience. This doesn’t usually happen. Most lights are triggered by traffic or are timed to quickly switch back if no traffic rolls over the sensors buried under the asphalt.

The route I took is really the easiest and most direct way to get from my house to I-95. However, if I had to drive those same roads more frequently, I would come up with another route.

My next trip to D.C. is in February. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

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