It’s been a mild winter so far, but last night the weather turned. By this morning we had snow on the ground, more is falling, and a sharp wind is pushing the snow into drifts and turning the falling snow into little cutting blades that prick your face as you walk. It’s not great weather for us glasses wearers.
This is a day to leave early, take it easy on the roads, and hope that school cancellations reduce the traffic flow. The first snowy commute is always an unwelcome adventure.
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The I-670 ramp to Third Street, which provides access from the east side to downtown Columbus, is closed for extensive repairs. It will be closed for months.
It’s only one of thousands — make that hundreds of thousands — of highway ramps in the United States. But for me, it’s perhaps the most important ramp. Its closure means that my principal route to work, the one that has been ingrained into my brain and every fiber of my being after years of mindless commuting, is not available. It means that I have to get out of my mental rut, abandon my snug comfort zone, and find another route to the heart of downtown Columbus during the morning rush hour. It means I have to experiment with alternatives during a time of day when hastily selected alternative routes usually mean delay and disaster.
So far I’ve tried two options. The planned alternative has the weird, jury-rigged feel you often get with traffic engineer reroutings. You exit I-670 at I-71, follow a narrow, two-lane channel between temporary barricades, then make a hairpin two-lane exit onto Spring Street. I’ve taken that route several times, two of which embroiled me in significant traffic jams. The other option was an experiment that ended in colossal failure. I exited I-670 one stop early, wound through some city streets, then found myself snarled in complete gridlock around the Columbus State campus. I won’t be trying that option again.
I’m steeling myself for the challenge of finding that elusive alternative route that will take me smoothly downtown on uncongested streets. In the meantime, I’m just going to brace myself — and leave 10 minutes earlier than normal.
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Today I’m holding my breath about getting to work, because yesterday’s morning drive caused me to realize, once again, that many of my fellow commuters are dangerous lunatics.
Sometime early yesterday a tanker truck overturned near the intersection of Route 161 and I-270, two of the major roads in Columbus. Both highways were closed in both directions for the entire morning rush hour. As a result, thousands of cars that normally use those arteries had to find alternative routes, and the entire east side of Columbus quickly became a paralyzed mass of red-faced, frustrated drivers. Every road heading in the direction of downtown was filled with cars inching along, bumper to bumper, going nowhere.
It’s amazing how quickly the veneer of civilization is ripped away when this kind of thing happens. After a few minutes of delay and the horrifying sight of long lines of stationary cars, drivers get the sinking feeling that this is going to be bad — and then the inner savage appears. Selfish drivers blithely block intersections as traffic lights change, infuriating everyone trying to get through the crossing. Drivers recklessly weave in and out, change lanes to move forward a single car length, and abruptly make illegal U-turns. Some people will drive on the berm, and other self-nominated traffic code enforcers try to block them from doing so.
You look at the well-dressed people in the stopped cars around you, gesturing angrily or beating their hands against the steering wheel, and you wonder whether they shouldn’t be wearing face paint and bearskins.
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As I noted recently, the President has been on a three-day bender of fundraising and campaigning, sufficiently leavened with “non-political” events to justify the taxpayers picking up most of the tab for the trip. Monday night he was in Los Angeles to attend an upscale fundraiser at a Hollywood producer’s house that netted a cool $1 million.
That nice pot of cash came at a price, however. Because the President traveled to the producer’s home by motorcade, the Secret Service had to close down roads that just happened to be some of the major arteries in the L.A. area. Traffic ground to a halt and commuters were trapped in seemingly endless gridlock. As the Los Angeles Times reports, virtually everyone who was unfortunate enough to be on the road at that time — regardless of their political affiliation — was furious at the President and his insensitivity to the impact he was having on their lives.
So President Obama came away from L.A. with lots of money but lots of bad feeling from voters, too. His apparent lack of awareness of the fact that he was inconveniencing thousands of people just so he could attend a political event may end up being one of those little incidents, insignificant in its own right, that nevertheless accumulates in peoples’ minds until the balance gets tipped in one direction or the other. President Obama and the First Lady already are being criticized for their vacations and lavish lifestyles. A fundraising visit that mires thousands of tired commuters in a frustrating, unmoving hell of hot asphalt and exhaust fumes may well contribute to the President’s growing reputation as an elitist who doesn’t really understand average Americans or their lives. If that reputation gets fixed in the minds of voters, it will be awfully difficult to change.
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I enjoyed reading Richard’s post on my 1988 Honda Accord.
I loved that car. Its paint color was “Harvest Gold” (I think) and it had headlights that flipped up and down when you turned them on, which I thought was cool even if no one else did. It was a steady, if unspectacular, car that served our family reliably for many years. By the end of its long period of service it bore the marks of melted crayons, the lingering sour odor of spoiled milk, and other unmistakable signs that it had belonged to the Webner family and its two young and growing sons.
In addition to being a good car, the 1988 Honda Accord was a milepost vehicle for two reasons. First and foremost, before I bought the Accord every car that I had ever owned was either a gift from my Ford dealer father or a used car. The 1988 Accord was the first new car I ever bought. With a job, a mortgage, and a new car, I felt like I had truly reached adulthood. Kish and I bought the car on our own, without any help from parents, and I feel like we chose wisely.
Second, the Accord was an orders of magnitude improvement over its immediate predecessor. The car I traded in for the Accord was a used green Ford LTD. It was a roomy car, but it had one of those distressing quirks that plague certain cars. It ran fine when you were on the road and moving, but when you were idling at a stoplight the LTD often would start knocking and sputtering and shaking. Sometimes the engine cut out just as the light turned green, cars behind would start honking, and you would pray that the car would start again. The dreaded shaking condition made my very brief commute a nerve-wracking experience as I gripped the wheel with white-knuckled intensity and tried to time my arrival at stoplights so that I never had to idle. When I got the Accord and it ran like a well-made clock I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and the morning commute because a much more tolerable experience.
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Commuting presents a daily set of challenges and frustrations. There are the timid souls who don’t understand that the proper way to merge onto a highway is to accelerate into the traffic flow, rather than creeping up to the merge point, hoping that the traffic on the highway will make way and then braking suddenly when that doesn’t happen. There are the oblivious types who are talking on their phones or, God forbid, texting, and therefore not paying the slightest attention to what they are doing. There are the self-absorbed characters who click on their turn signals and then immediately begin to drift into the next lane, as if the simple act of initiating the turn signal gave them a magic pass that automatically cleared the way for their cars.
For my money, the worst offenders are the people who seemingly do not grasp the purpose of the passing lane. When I took my driver’s education class and ventured out, for the first time, onto a four-lane highway, the instructor made it clear that the left lane was the passing lane. You moved into the left lane if you wanted to pass the car or truck in front of you, and when you had completed the pass you moved back into the right lane. This allowed traffic to flow properly.
This salutary concept evidently is lost on some people. In their view, the left lane is simply a lane like any other, to be occupied by traffic. If they are going to be turning left in two miles or so, they may as well get over into the left lane now, stake their claim to that spot in traffic, and continue to drive their normal speed — which typically is about 5 miles below the speed limit. Why not? It’s more convenient for them. In the meantime, the traffic piles up behind them and then frazzled commuters begin to consider whether they can shoot around the car on the right — and when they attempt that maneuver the offender, shaken from his reverie, usually speeds up for some reason. Eventually people start driving recklessly, brake lights flash, and accidents happen. I’ve often thought that more accidents are caused by overly slow drivers that overly fast drivers. Others agree; this website has a helpful collection of quotes that make that point.
So I say: Slow drivers, give us a break! Let the passing lane be the passing lane!
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