Salutations! Apologies for the radio silence on my end, fair readers. I threw out my neck rather spectacularly last week (was it the extreme laundry-basket-carrying? The high-octane reading-a-large-and-heavy-book? The three and a half whole push-ups I managed the previous day? The world may never know), and have since been scrambling to catch up. Because crafting is more or less out of the question for the moment, and because we’ve just come out the other side of a famously travel-heavy holiday, I thought I’d do another travel column this week. And so I shall henceforth dissemble on that chestnut of a Thanksgiving tradition, traffic.
Traffic is the horsefly in the ointment of adventure. I’ve been stuck atop the apex of Miami bridges, looking wistfully at the expanse of Art Deco silver and turquoise sea stretching far below. I’ve wished with carsick fervor that Atlanta would either implement a decent public transportation system or adequately accommodate the vehicular density that comes of not having one. I’ve stared ahead as I inched across the stocky grey George Washington Bridge, gradually losing all hope of seeing the other side. I’ve discovered the terrible truth about driving in Boston at rush hour: that it is a slow-motion but nonetheless terrifying game of chicken with every other animate occupant of the road—car, pedestrian, or intrepid pigeon-zilla—and whoever flinches first yields right of way. I’ve sat in gridlock near Philadelphia’s Centre Square; the friend in whose car I was a passenger took advantage of our stillness to point out the unusual pose of William Penn’s statue atop Philadelphia City Hall. I’ve lurched in stop-and-go up Maine’s coast, and rolled my windows down, soaking in the summer morning sunlight and smelling salt on the air. I’ve chugged past Berkshire cornfields in pummeling rain, blasting Queen’s “Seven Seas of Rhye” over and over on my car stereo so as not to fall asleep. (I dare you to hear Freddie Mercury bellow, “I challenge the mighty titan and his troubadours!”, look me in the eye, and tell me you’re still in the mood for a nap.) In the coming years I hope to sit idling in lines of motorists farther afield. I’ve heard L.A. is in a class all its own.
Somewhere in all of this, as those possessed of a vagabondish nature must do, I’ve made my peace with gridlock. If you’re not late, exhausted, feeling the press of biological necessity, or on a very tight gas budget, traffic can be eminently bearable. The infamous day before Thanksgiving is over, but the next time you’re stuck, my recommendations (perhaps obvious, but eminently helpful to me):
–Audiobooks and serial podcast fiction will keep you from leaping out the car window yelling, “I’M FREEEEEEE!” I personally find stories with a certain amount of brio to be most effective in keeping spirits high while speed is low. I love a challenging novel that unfolds delicately. I adore subtle, understated wit. But if you’re like me, you may want something robust to distract you from dolefully eyeing the bumper ahead. A favorite of mine: Decoder Ring Theater’s Red Panda Adventures. It’s a jolly, cracking 1930s radio play–style serial recounting the deeds of the Red Panda, “Canada’s greatest superhero.” Banter! Gadgets! Evildoers! Derring-do!
–Especially if you’re driving, have chewing gum or mints on hand for when you get too tired or stir-crazy. Taste is stimulus and entertainment, and chewing provides some small outlet for pent-up energy.
–If you have backseat malcontents (children or passengers inclined to act like them), especially if they’re inclined to motion sickness, give them something to fiddle with that doesn’t have a screen. Playing with smartphones and tablets is a great distraction, but after a while spent doing so in the car, a lot of people start to feel ill. (Myself included. I am the sovereign of the backseat malcontents.) Give them a break with a non-messy tactile thing, like silly putty and its ilk, or a three-dimensional puzzle that doesn’t require too much hand-eye coordination. If you’ll permit me to sneak in a Peter Pauper item mention, Foil It is actually great on this score. It’s entertaining, and playing with it feels productive, but it doesn’t require the acute visual concentration that can make passengers woozy. Also, creating shiny things is a little addictive, which is seldom a bad thing on a long journey.
–Modify your seat—with pillows, padding, and whatever configuration-adjustment your car will allow—to compensate for the physical discomfort of moving from brake to gas and back, over and over. The next time you’re in traffic, pay attention to what starts to get tired or achy after a while, and experiment to determine what best alleviates that. It’ll pay off when you’re stuck on a long trip. I keep Tiger Balm in my car, though the applications thereof are obviously somewhat limited while driving. (I’ve been told I’m too young for such cares. I’ve also been told I’m too young to fear Facebook, though, and I do in abundance.)
And with that, I bid you au revoir! May your next round of travels be swift and smooth.