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2004.04.14 Blind Eye in the Sky

posted Nov 4, 2009, 4:31 AM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Nov 4, 2009, 4:33 AM ]

If I had a helicopter, I wouldn't waste my time looking at traffic...

"Dad, if I punch out the lady who does the traffic report on the radio, will you come bail me out of jail?"

"Son, what did I tell you before?"

"If I end up in jail, don't bother calling you until the morning, because you won't come before then, just to teach me a lesson."

"Exactly."

I almost didn't write a column this evening. Why? Because by the time I got home, it was about the same time when I'd usually finish this column and shut down the computer for the night. But I figured I might want to write one anyway, just to blow off some steam.

Why did it take me so long to get home? Because I listened to the traffic lady. In fact, I listened to her for a solid hour while I creeped along at 0.024 MPH on the interstate, watching the temperature gauge on the dash climb ever so slowly higher. I listened to her tell me that the roads were clear, traffic was flowing nicely, and if there were any trouble spots just call her and she'd let everybody know.

I called and left a message on her voice mail.

After that hour, she mentioned that there might be a little slowing on the interstate north of the city. By that time, I'd shut off the truck, put her in neutral, and was letting the semi behind me push me along, since he was bumping me every time he started up anyway.

I kind of had to shut off the truck. In addition to the radiator making funny bubbling noises, I was running low on gas. Normally, that never happens. I fill up regularly about the time the fuel gauge gets below 1/2, which by my reckoning is when I've burned about 3/4 the fuel in the tank, gauges being what they are. I had a trip up to see my girlfriend planned for the weekend, so I was letting most of the cheap gas I usually use run out before I filled up with the good stuff. So instead of stopping the afternoon before to fill up, I figured I could get one more trip to work and back in before I hit the pumps.

About the time I wondered if my brother still had that gas can I gave him for Christmas, the traffic lady allowed that we might want to seek an alternate route if we were traveling north of the city.

I was way below 1/4 tank when the traffic jam finally broke. In fact, if I turned or accelerated the truck suddenly, the gas needle would disappear altogether. I started looking for a gas station, though I knew there wasn't one on that interstate until the exit ramp I was planning to take anyway.

I never did figure out what the traffic jam was all about, either. I figured it was either a wreck or construction, since that was a wreck-prone area and they'd been improving the road to better serve us for the last half a decade. But I never saw a wreck, just some vehicles well off to the side of the road which had overheated while creeping along like I was. The construction crews had packed up and gone home by the time I actually reached the construction zone. Nothing there, either. Just suddenly cars were moving and I was able to take my cramped foot off the brake.

My foot hadn't uncramped by the time I finished pumping gas. This was going to be a long drive home. About that time I remembered that I was going to install a cruise control this summer. Remind me of that later, will you?

I'm trying to figure out who that traffic lady is sleeping with to keep her job. That's not a sexist remark, by the way. If a man were doing the same job with the same apparent lack of skill, I'd wonder the same thing. I mean, I can understand being mistaken or a little slow once in a while, but to report the same incorrect information over and over again for an hour, with me and everyone else with a cellular phone calling in and leaving detailed messages to the contrary, staggers the imagination.

For example, at least once a week, the following happens:

6:32 AM - "No major delays this morning. Good on the ridge cut and no congestion downtown. Traffic on the interstate is flowing nicely."

6:43 AM - "No major delays. No congestion yet downtown and the ridge cut is looking good. Traffic flowing into the city nicely from the interstate."

6:51 AM - "Traffic is picking up downtown but still moving smoothly. Interstate is clear. Traffic moving nicely."

7:04 AM - "...traffic flowing well..."

7:13 AM - "...all clear coming into town..."

7:21 AM - "...flowing nicely on the interstate coming into town..."

7:32 AM - "Police and EMS are still on the scene of that accident on the interstate north of town that's had traffic totally blocked for the last hour. They've temporarily opened one lane so traffic is moving but expect at least an additional hour's delay. You might want to consider an alternate."

Naturally, I'm just past the last off ramp before I get to the accident when this last one comes across, so it's way too late for me to consider an alternate. I assume that she means an alternate route. Another verbal shorthand she uses is saying that an accident is in its final. I assume that she means the cleanup of the accident is in its final stages.

Of course, some mornings I get this:

7:32 AM - "The accident on the interstate that was slowing traffic down earlier this morning has finally been cleared and traffic is now moving nicely."

I get this right before I slam into the end of the gridlock caused by the accident which has not, by the way, been cleared up. In fact, when I ask the officer on the scene, he's amazed that anyone could even think that seeing as the road has been totally blocked for the last hour.

And, the topper of this particular cake:

7:32 AM - "There's just been an accident on the interstate to the north of the city. All lanes of traffic are blocked. Please use an alternate to enter the city."

I usually get this one just in time to take that last exit ramp. So I exit. Right along with everyone else on the road. The secondary roads get clogged and all the so-called alternates are soon bogged down. And what do I hear when I finally get to work?

"Why did you come through the middle of town like that? That accident on the interstate happened at 3:30 AM. It's been cleared for hours. They brought the people involved here to the hospital and they've already been treated and released."

Tell me, does that traffic lady even have a helicopter?

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