The U.S. population has exactly doubled since I was born (from 165.5 million in 1955 to 331 million in 2020).
Last week I had an epiphany, but before I get to that let me share some background. First, I absolutely despise traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I like to visit friends and family, I just hate the process. Among travel modes, flying is by far my least desirable method of travel, but driving isn’t much better. Until a year ago, I used to make frequent trips to northern Georgia for business. If traveling in ideal conditions, the drive would be about five and a half hours. Unfortunately, ideal conditions are rare these days. I would loathe the thought of that drive, anxious about the nearly inevitable traffic jams in both Nashville and Chattanooga. Even if I planned the drive strategically, such as driving at night or very early on weekends, it seldom resulted in those ideal conditions.
One time I left my location in Georgia at 4:30 AM on a Sunday. It was approximately a one hour drive before I reached Cleveland, TN just outside Chattanooga. This meant if all went well, I could get past Nashville by 7:30 or 8:00. It did not go well. When I reached Cleveland, my favorite navigation app, Waze, informed me that all lanes on I-75 were jammed. There is no reasonable alternative route. I cannot adequately describe the rage I felt when I discovered this. It took me nearly two hours to get through that mess. A couple hours later as I approached Nashville, guess what happened? Yep, I-25 on Nashville was also jammed–Yes, dammit, the interstate was a parking lot coming into Nashville at 9:30 AM on a Sunday morning!
This was not an unusual experience for me. It seems no matter what time or what day, I could count on getting jammed up on my 5 and half hour trip would end up being 7 to 8 hours long. And even when the traffic wasn’t at a standstill, the interstates were nearly always a constant, unrelenting train for cars. Each of them jockeying for position and trying to out-maneuver one another. And don’t get me started on the issue of tractor-trailers and their vindictive, dangerous, and downright obnoxious driving. They all seem to have a habit of jumping out in the left lane just as they begin going up a long hill, knowing full well they won’t be passing that other semi just to their right. ARGHHH!!!
Now, back to my epiphany. My wife and I left around noon on Friday to visit some good friends for a couple of days. The evening before I checked Waze to determine the best route. It would be a 5 and half hour drive to Memphis, taking us through Nashville on I-65 to I-40 on to Memphis. As we were about to leave, Waze had changed my route, because, you guessed it, I-40 out of Nashville was once again a parking lot. This was not rush-hour. Fortunately, we had an alternate route that would be 6 hours instead of 5 and half. I was kind of relieved because I knew the route on the Western Kentucky Parkway rarely had heavy traffic. In fact, I’ve never experienced heavy traffic on that road.
About halfway there, I realized I wasn’t stressed in the least. I was enjoying a conversation with my wife and listening to 70s and 80s music. Not a care in the world. I started thinking about why my stress level was so low. It was because I didn’t anticipate or worry about traffic jams ahead nor was I driving in heavy traffic. But there’s really more to it than just that. You see, in driving long distances, I’m either competing or I’m in battle. In both of those, my stress is at an all time high. The human body and mind is not designed for long term adrenaline rushes needed to sustain one’s self in competitions and battle for 4-10 hours at a time. Something has to give.
In my normal driving mode, I spend as much time analyzing traffic in my rear view mirror as I do looking ahead. Tactical driving is an art form, but not a pleasant one. I’ve developed a system of calculating the odds of the car coming from behind me doing something stupid when he comes up on me. I look at the make, model, color, and year of the car. It tells me a lot. And when it gets close enough to see the driver, I look at the size, gender, clothing, and the positions of their hands on the steering wheel. It’s also important to determine if they are talking to someone else–either in the car next to them or God forbid, someone on the phone. I can also tell if they’re listening to music, and often what kind of music. Let’s say I’m going 74 MPH in the left lane, waiting on the idiot in front of me to pass the car on his right, and doing it very slowly or not at all. Then someone is approaching me from the rear at great speed, driving a dark, late model BMW turning his head constantly to see where he can cut in on someone else, I know for a fact he’s going to shift to the right lane and attempt to pass me on the right, and attempt to cut in front of me to get back in the left lane. And because it’s me, this is NOT going to happen. Then he’ll be visibly pissed at me for not letting him in. As if I was the one causing the backup, not the moron in front of me.
I have a massive list of these scenarios in my head–for every possible driving scenario, every model of car, and every obnoxious driver out there. And just so you know, I’m not a road bully. I do not tailgate people to get them to speed up. I do; however, go exactly 5 MPH over the speed limit, which inevitably puts me in the category of either being an asshole to some drivers (driving faster than them) or an idiot to others (not going fast enough). I also pull to the right lane if someone approaches me going faster, assuming there is room on the right to do so.
My epiphany that day actually happened in the last 4o miles approaching Memphis when I had to get back on I-40. Until then, there was no heavy traffic, I didn’t have to engage my tactical driving mode one time. I pulled on to I-40, which was nothing but a long train of cars, reminding me of a huge pile of maggots feasting on the carcass of a long-dead animal. My blood pressure ramped up to dangerous levels, the veins on my neck began to pulse, my color changed from pale white to dark shade of magenta, my hands wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, my knuckles turned white, my adrenal medulla kicked into emergency mode, and my wife rolled her eyes. She was no doubt thanking God we got rerouted and she only had to endure a half-hour of Edward Hyde. Until then, I was the calm, even-tempered, Dr. Jeckyll.
When I was a much younger man, traffic wasn’t like it is today. Traveling by car anywhere today is a total crapshoot. Back in the day, this boomer never experienced constant traffic snarls like this. But it’s not just driving or flying. Its everywhere. Trips to the grocery store must be planned at the right time of the day. Going out to dinner? Same deal. I mean, it’s not even uncommon to see people in drive-through lines at fast-food restaurants trying to nudge each other out of the way to beat them to the pay window. Oh, and what if we just want to get away from it all and go camping, well, good luck with that. Most of the more popular spots for camping require a reservation–sometimes as much as a year in advance. Then when you get there, it’s mostly a big zoo. Hell, it’s even crowded online these days.
No wonder so many people are short-tempered and frustrated. There are just too many damned people out there. Let’s assume that 20% of the population consists of idiots (a very generous guess, I think). When I was born, there were only 33 million idiots running around. Now there are 66 million of them. The chances of an encounter with these people have doubled in my lifetime
Yes, I have finally discovered the reason for the mass discontent among the American public. There are just too many people and there’s just not enough room for all of us.