All You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Response You Can Learn in Traffic

I worked in traffic for over twenty-seven years for the Georgia Department of Transportation. There were many times in my career where I had a lot of be proud of, with the bridges and roads that I helped build. There were times I was nearly hurt, seriously, because of traffic, and usually it was because someone behind the wheel of a car or truck wasn’t paying attention, or was speeding, or was drunk.

2018 was my last full year with the department, and 2017 was the last year I spent most of my time in harm’s way, and on I-75 at that. Night work on I-75 was enough to convince me that getting out while the getting was good might just save my life.

 

Traffic is different these days. People are more determined not to yield the right of way, not to surrender what they consider “their” lane, and they’re more distracted. People have gotten more aggressive, and they’ve gotten a lot more rude. They’ve become dangerously infected with the idea things on the road have to be the way they think they should be, at all costs, and that cost is paid by people like me, and the men and women under my management. In good conscious, I could not tell new people it was worth the risk, because I stopped believing it was. The traveling public became too dangerous to work with anymore.

 

Social media has created the idea that all opinions have real worth, and that worth has to be defended. People have become aggressive about what they believe, and it’s gotten dangerous in many ways. Drivers believe what they read online, and they believe it’s important enough to be engaged online while driving on the Interstate at speeds that can kill in an instant. That’s reality. What someone says that you either agree with or disagree with isn’t worth your life.

 

It sure as hell isn’t worth mine.

 

In the last few years, I’ve witnessed more people blocking traffic by positioning themselves to the left, and behind a slower vehicle on four lane roads. They’ll let other people get clogged up in traffic, back up a dozen cars, and they’ll maneuver so no one can get past them. This is new to me. I’ve never seen it until a few years ago, and to pull something like that on the Interstate is insane. But it speaks to the idea that someone wants to be in control of other people, other people must fall in line with that drive thinks is funny, or give that person power or purpose, I have no idea. I do know it is exceedingly dangerous.

 

Sometimes, on social media, I wonder if some people actually have a point, or an idea, or if they’re just getting in the way of other people because it’s their idea of fun. I asked for a recommendation on FB and got a half a dozen people who tossed out stuff that had nothing to do with what I asked. It wasn’t mean, or malicious, but it was a knee jerk reaction to get in the way because they could.

 

I think social media asks that we respond. We can be creative, or obstructionist, or we can even be angry. But we are trained to respond, not think, or consider, or even simply read and move on.

 

Those emoji buttons aren’t there to express thoughts but to give us some way to respond, and feel like we have made some sort of contribution, like screaming at a character in a television show.

 

When Covid-19 began to creep into the American consciousness, I assumed this would play out like it did in 1919. People would do the right things for the right reasons, and eventually, we would come out on the other side, more united, and stronger. But the dialog was driven by politics, and there were far too many people who say the plague, and the response to it, as political. The deaths and suffering of those who were infected, their families, and those who might succumb to the disease were not relevant. Any action, no matter how small or how large, was met with screaming and hostility, because it wasn’t about life and death, it was about politics, personal or national. It was about opinion and what was repeated in the echo chamber of social media posts. People became even more dangerous to other people than they had been in traffic, and for the very same reasons.

 

Americans have become a splintered collection of self-centered, selfish, uneducated, ignorant, self-righteous and highly opinionated self contained media centers that puke out whatever each of them feels best about, once they hear that two hundred and whatever many characters that can be tossed out in less than twenty seconds of typing.

 

The elderly and the children be damned. Social media is the new family now, and it is driven by nothing more complicated than a chicken pecking at a button that delivers a snack.

 

Over the last three years or so, I’ve watched people I thought I knew, and thought I respected, become seething bodies of hatred and mistrust, believing conspiracy theories that are downright laughable. These people will attack in mass, and viciously, anyone who dares ask them to cite a source, or to produce an honest source for what they preach.

 

The reaction to the plague, how people drive, and how they treat other people has become a nearly religious event. The right to a lane, the right to an opinion, and the right to treat people poorly is given to them by the Gods of social media, the support of like minded responders, and the never ending belief that if it can be repeated often enough, it must be true.

 

Can we honestly be surprised the Nazis are back? This is their playbook. People are recruiting themselves for the most assertive groups out there and what they actually stand for is totally and utterly irrelevant because it’s the response mechanism, not the philosophy, that counts these days.

 

And it’s getting people killed.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

Rage in the Rain, on the Road, and Windshield Wipers

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It’s a strange life to lead when getting off work just after midnight is getting off early. The rain started right after work did and a light rain doesn’t kill things off, but a light rain that doesn’t stop, and gets harder, does. The bottom fell out of the sky right after it was called off, as if to punctuate the demise of the day. By the time I pointed the truck westward the rain was down to a heavy drizzle but the damage had been done.

 

Mile Marker 8 exists just west of I-75, and I try to ramp my speed up to fifty-five by the time I get to it. True enough, the speed limit is forty-five, but it is late, and there’s very little traffic. Up ahead of me, there’s a white serial killer van in the inside lane, directly ahead of me, and to his right is a car. The serial killer van and the car aren’t side by side but they’re damn close, and I see now I’m going to have to slow down until one of them decides to turn, slow down, go faster, or stop to kidnap some schoolchildren while offering free candy.

 

As far as I know, the white serial killer van is an urban myth with no real serial killers actually using the vehicle and if one or two did, remember that Bundy used a VW Bug to kidnap women. I had a friend with one, many years ago, and I never really saw them as creepy until the internet started calling them out. I wonder what else the internet has done for us, other than that?

 

Suddenly, as I’m getting closer, the white serial killer van speeds up, and passes the car, a little too closely, and the car responds by changing lanes, and moving in front of me. It’s like they traded places, but the car was forced to slow down, so when it changed lanes, it cut me off, and I had to slow down. The white serial killer van makes a right turn, seeking some lost soul to prey upon, and is gone.

 

Somehow, what just happened was my fault in some way. The car, which is in front of me, slows down dramatically, and I change lanes. The car speeds up and changes lanes, and the driver flicks a cigarette out of the window straight up into the air.

 

Really? This is supposed to, in some way, enrage me?

 

So another car appears behind us, and as it passes me, I fall in behind it, and the Enraged Car speeds up, as to not let me escape his wrath. As he gets beside me, I speed up to about sixty, then drop down to fifty very quickly, and he has to brake to keep from overshooting me to the point his point hasn’t been made yet. He slows down and I speed up. A big rig truck shows up behind me and I speed up, knowing the car of rage cannot fall in behind me because of the truck.

 

Really? Is any of this truly necessary?

 

We get to Mile Marker 4. Yes, all of this has occurred in the last four miles. If you really want to know how weird things can get, there were four people burned to death in an accident about ten years ago. They were pulling out of Exit 18 and by the time they had nearly reached Exit 16 two miles away, four people were dead. They cut someone off and that person eventually rammed them. At three in the morning. There were a half dozen cars within a mile of that event, maybe.

 

 

But now he’s lost track of me and I drop down in speed and get over into the slow lane again. A few minutes later he passes me, slows down, so I do too, but there’s more traffic on the road behind him and he’s losing interest. He speeds up and I watch him slowly gain ground. Soon, another car passes me, and another, so by the time we get to the County Line, he’s too far ahead of me for me to tell who is who up there.

 

The rain begins again, harder, and I have to turn on the wipers. There’s a certain ethereal quality when it comes to windshield wipers. They appear from nowhere, disappear instantly, and the water on the windshield is gone, but then it returns, and the wipers come back, and so it goes, for miles and miles and miles. No one can really say how many times they’ve watched this, and to a point it’s just background scenery, like the lines on the road, or the rain itself. We don’t really see wipers, until they go to hell on us, leave streaks, squeak, or break. And most streaks occur right in front of the driver’s field of vision.

 

The mile markers reverse at the line. I went from eight to zero, and now go from seventeen to twelve. At twelve I’ll be in Quitman, and eleven is on the west side, and I’ll head South. In Quitman, there’s a line of traffic caused by the train catching people, I just missed it, and lo! The car of extreme anger is trapped at a traffic light two cars ahead of me as I pull up.

I wonder if he sees me back there and there’s some trigger that’s pulled and he wants to play tag in traffic some more? I mean was it really that big of a deal? Does it mean so much to people that this person did that or someone in some car did something that caused that much anger?

 

I make a left turn as the car of rage heads due west. Somewhere, his version of the story is different, but I made an effort to disengage. I don’t do road rage in any form. I keep the hell away from human beings when I can, and I can. One day, he’s going to pull up beside someone can catch a bullet for his troubles, but those are not my troubles. The rain ceases and I turn off the wipers.

 

Take Care,

Mike