Traffic with a side of smiles


What I learned from an 8-car pile up

Today I dealt with the longest commute since starting my grown-up job. What normally takes me 20 to 30 minutes turned into just under 2 hours after an early morning 8-car accident closed the expressway at my normal exit.

The overflow traffic took out my second navigation option and I’m too stubborn to have taken the third which would have required me to drive all the way downtown to head north on a different interstate.

So, there I was. Stuck, and coming up with metaphors while lamenting the spring-like weather and highlighting transcripts I had with me. At least it wasn’t raining.

While inching along I saw a number of interesting sites and also the great side of human nature.

While the first ten minutes of the traffic was spent trying to figure out which lane is moving the fastest, merging into that lane and then realizing the lane you had moved from was moving quicker, the next 100 were spent observing other drivers.

There were the impatient drivers – the ones constantly jumping into different lanes exasperated that all of these other cars decided they would get in their way. The complacent, including myself, who realized we weren’t going anywhere fast and pulled out other work or made calls. The bored drivers who ended up talking to each other through opened windows. And the compassionate – they were my favorite.

Above and beyond

About 65 minutes into the drive I came upon four or five cars sitting on the shoulder. While parked near them I noticed a hooded figure running towards them from the entrance ramp. I realized he was carrying three five-gallon cans of gasoline as he got closer and all of the cars popped their gas tanks. After filling everyone up he hopped in his own car – without filling his own tank.

About two miles down the road he pulled off to the shoulder again to rescue another two cars.

It was just past the second stranded motorists that the McDonald’s man started our conversation. I was in the slow lane, highlighting away, when I heard “Hey! Hey, you!” and began trying to figure out where it was from. It took me a minute to look up where the man in the passenger seat waved. “What are you reading?”

After exchanging niceties and assuring him I was enjoying my opportunity to multi-task while inching along he motioned to his driver and his radio. “We just got word that we’re all getting off at Winton. We gotta get in your lane. Would you mind if we got in front of you?” And with a wink (his) and a salute (from me), I let them.

I spent another half hour in the car watching the impatient drivers breeze by in the fast lane only to screech to a halt when that lane was closed ahead of us; watching people try to creep up the shoulder to get to the nearest exit only to be stopped by broken down vehicles; watching people attempt to weave in and out of traffic, harried and uncooperative.

Business jams

I couldn’t help but think that traffic jam was just like a business.

When times are great people speed along by themselves. For the most part, they’re autonomous only paying attention to other cars to make sure they aren’t going to hit each other. Occasionally, they’ll have to work together to successfully change lanes. But really, everyone is hurtling towards a common goal.

Suddenly, something crashes and things are thrown completely into disarray. People immediately snap into the me-mode trying to figure out the best personal track they could be on. Which lane is going to continue to lead each individual to success? Which is going to be the least impeded by the problem?

After a beat or two, everyone realizes that they’ll all be affected by the problem and starts to pay attention to what everyone else is doing. They begin to work together to safely merge into other lanes. Some take it upon themselves to jump into the problem head first even if it’d be easier for them to stay out of it and continue on their path to success – they’re the ones who run to get gas for everyone else.

People begin to realize that it’s beneficial to create and strengthen relationships. They strike up conversations to form bonds and work together to get everyone onto the successful path without rocking the boat too much or making too many people mad. Just asking makes cutting in line easier.

And then there are the impatient ones. They think they have all the answers and want to zoom ahead, certain that they’re correct and if we all just get out of their way or move faster everything will be perfect. And then, there’s the inevitable roadblock. The lane closing, the broken down car, traffic patterns changing – they’re normally ahead.

It’s pretty annoying when everyone else is working together to get on the successful path and someone blows by in an empty lane only to see them further down the road repeating the initial autonomous freak out once they’re stopped again.

All in all it was an enlightening and entertaining traffic jam. What i learned, though, is that everyone gets there eventually, wherever the there is.

It’s all a matter of mindset.

Are you only thinking of yourself? Are you convinced that your ideas are the best speeding ahead of everyone else, frustrated that no one else is moving quite as fast as you want?

Or are you settled into a track, working with each other to make sure everyone is going to make it?

Each have their merits, success involves a little of both. But those on the more patient path can have a bit more fun and survive a traffic jam with some smiles.

Post By Liz Harter (70 Posts)

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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About the Author

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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