Traffic Jamming

There are times when the words won’t come out, when the fingers punching the keyboard can’t produce what the mind desires.

There are times when excessive commitments from work or social life take away any opportunity to write.

And then there are times when you hear about a nine-day traffic jam in China and the thrill of absurdity and inexplicability knocks down any considerable blogging obstacle.

So, did you hear about the traffic jam?

The one that’s lasted for, oh, about nine days. NINE FREAKING DAYS. People have been caught in traffic. Not moving. In their cars. FOR NINE DAYS.

That’s six days longer than the Isner, Mahut zombie match, longer than “Ben-Hur” and only a day shorter than the average checkout line at Wal-Mart.

And it’s actually still happening, all of it on a road connecting Beijing to inner Mongolia. The armada of cramped, immovable cars stretches for more than 60 miles.

I’ve never been to China, but I’ve read about the driving and the roads and the congestion from the author Peter Hessler. It’s grating. The best way to describe its insanity and mind-warping annoyance is this: Picture the worst traffic you’ve experienced and multiply it by 735, add thicker-than-L.A. smog, an alarming number of Volkswagens, bad tires, and a lack of passion for the well-being of an automobile, and then pretend that in addition to those variables you also have Dane Cook sitting next to you in the passenger seat.

Yeah, it’s that bad. This time it became worse because in addition to the usual problems, there was also construction. Yes, construction. A few oranges cones and cranes have led to a nine-day and counting headache.

Reports say people are playing cards to pass the time and sleeping in their cars. Food comes from vendors who are gouging the unfortunate drivers. But these stories aren’t nearly enough in-depth. This is the biggest event in weird news history. There should be on-the-clock CNN reporting*. So many questions are unanswered.

*Perhaps if there were a balloon boy hovering above, CNN would increase its coverage.

What have people been listening to on the radio?

What if someone left behind his or her cell phone at home that day?

What if you were driving back from a first date?

What do you tell your boss?*

Sorry Bob, not going to be able to make it in today, tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, next Monday, next Tuesday, next Wednesday or next Thursday.

What if you had to go to the bathroom?

What if your air conditioner was broken?

At what point did drivers decide to put the car in park and rest their legs. Or is there still a driver out there with his car on, keeping his foot on the brake pedal and thinking that at any second the flow of traffic could resume?

Even without stories, we know this would be an absolute nightmare. Besides Dane Cook, there are few nuisances in our society worse than traffic. A famous scene in “Office Space” displays our cultural opinion.

Either the bald guy or Michael Bolton is on his way to work. I think it’s the bald guy. Anyways, his lane stops moving so he switches into another that is moving. That lane stops. His former lane starts moving. He switches back. That one stops. He screams, he pounds his steering wheel and that, my friends, is traffic.

But this, this Chinese ordeal, isn’t traffic. It’s beyond that. It really isn’t even a nightmare. Nightmares contain bits of reality. This can’t be real. Our imaginations can’t wander far enough to create such implausible, lasting chaos.

I remember getting stuck in traffic for two and a half hours last fall. There was no construction and no accident. It was just plain ol’ Texas confusion! And it sucked. My IPod shuffle saved the last piece of my sanity.

I can also think of the worst traffic I’ve seen. It was in Cairo. A main avenue was fraught with honking cars and a whole lot of random vehicles, like horse-drawn carriages and makeshift buses where people sat on top of the roof and hung out doors and stopped wherever the quote-un-quote bus driver felt like stopping. There was even a guy in a sweatsuit running in the middle of the road. I’d never seen anything like it.

And this is 735 times worse. Drivers in China are living something beyond the throes of nightmare, and the strangest part is they hardly seem to care.

I looked over and over for quotes about this event, about this insanity, and I kept coming across only one.

It comes from a guy with the last name Wang.* Wang is a trucker. He told a reporter that from CBC News that he had been stuck in the jam for the past three days and two nights.

*Really? In a story about Asians, the lone guy quoted has to have the last name Wang.

He told the reporter that drivers had been advised to take detours, to get the hell out of the mind-bending traffic snarl. But he was going to stand his ground. He wanted to stay as long as he could.

“I would rather stay here,” he said to CBC, “since I will travel more distance and increase my costs.”

And unfortunately there are no words to justify that man’s decision.

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