Holiday Horrors: Traffic Reactions

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

gwb.jpgBad habits never emerge full blown. You pick them along your life’s journey, and they grow slowly, like mold, until one day you notice you’re covered in them.

I don’t really traditional vices (not to the point where they negatively impact my life, anyway), but I do have a problem with flying off the handle about dumb stuff. I like to say that I’m a good person to have around in a crisis and a terrible one to have around for petty annoyances.

If I had to guess why I do this (other than “I’m a dick”), I’m guessing it’s because said annoyances are often reflections of other people’s incompetence or stupidity. I find nothing more infuriating than being thwarted or inconvenienced because somebody else isn’t paying attention or doing their job the right way. It speaks of my overall fear of a loss of power and control. Hey, I have issues. We all do.

As a subset of this personality trait, I picked up a very bad habit years ago. I’m not exactly sure how; I think it stemmed from the years when I was either in a band or traveling often with friends’ bands to gigs. Getting stuck in traffic was a common feature of these trips. When that happened, the common refrain was, “I better see some bodies at the end of this.” The longer the traffic lasted, the more graphic the descriptions of these bodies would get. It helped pass the time in a frustrating situation and made me feel better, in a horrible, horrible way.

I had a girlfriend back then who would get really upset whenever I said something like this, and she would lecture me about how terrible it was to say stuff like this. “Won’t you feel awful if you get to the end and there’s a horrible accident causing it all?” I snorted these objections away, because in my experience to that point, 99 out of 100 traffic jams were caused by road work or people rubbernecking to see a fender bender, or something equally idiotic.

Flash forward several years. I’m driving up to my grandparents’ house on Christmas morning, trying to make my way to the George Washington Bridge by way of the FDR Drive. On most Christmas mornings, I’d have the road virtually to myself, but on this Yule, the traffic came to a screeching halt just past 125th Street.

I reacted to this with my usual grace and patience, which is to say I engaged my “there better be bodies on the road” setting. As the traffic crawled forward as a snail’s pace, my desire to see death got progressively more gruesome. I demanded severed limbs. Decapitations. Entrails hanging from tree limbs like tire swings.

And then I got to the source of the problem. A big, boaty American car of 1970s vintage had plowed into the divider between the GWB on-ramp and the north-bound FDR. Either the safety barrels’ effectiveness were grossly overstated, or the car had been going at an insane speed. Whatever the cause, the car’s entire front end–engine block, axle, and hood–was folded in on itself, and the windshield completely shattered.

The accident only involved one vehicle, so there was only one NYPD squad car and one fire truck on scene. The fireman stayed in their truck–there was no fire to extinguish–and one cop lazily waved traffic passed one blocked off lane. In that lane, another cop was just draping a sheet over a dead body.

It was just one body, with nothing close to the carnage I had been asking to see moments earlier. I didn’t see a single drop of blood. And yet I felt as sickened and guilty as if I were responsible for the accident, as if I had willed it to happen because of my childish, ghoulish impatience.

So I don’t do my “I better see dead bodies” routine any more. Sure, I’m still miserable to be around in a traffic jam, but not so miserable I wish hypothetical death on anyone. I just wish I could have broken myself of this bad habit without seeing AN ACTUAL DEATH. Or without making this ex-girlfriend piously and retroactively correct.