Driven to patience

Patrick Nijhuis /
Patrick Nijhuis /

Ah, yes. Another long, slow, Southern California commute. It’s funny how even in the midst of stop-and-go traffic, people still dart dangerously in and out, as if they will somehow magically discover a path leading out of the snarl. At one point, I had a guy in a metallic blue Corvette next to me, and — forgive my stereotypes! — expected him to be a “darter.”

But he wasn’t. Instead, it was the guy in the yellow school bus.

Of course, it was an empty school bus. There were no screaming children involved. But it’s not the kind of vehicle you expect to see making sudden moves. I imagine he just really wanted to get home after a long day.

Sometimes, when I’m stuck in traffic, I do an experiment. I maneuver over into the #1 lane (the term “fast” lane is extremely misleading in these situations), then stay there, without changing lanes the whole way home. Then I look for someone in another lane, driving something easy to track visually — like a yellow school bus. The hypothesis to be tested is that when the traffic’s that heavy, changing lanes won’t help much, if at all.

At first, we were in the same lane. But then he swerved sharply into the next lane to take advantage of a gap in what looked like faster moving traffic. Soon, he was far ahead, though I could still see him.

A few miles down the road, however, I passed him. In a couple of minutes, I could no longer see him in my rearview mirror.

But then he caught up and passed me. And on it went, in a slow and smoggy game of tag. By the time he veered off onto another freeway, I would have to concede that he “won” by getting and staying ahead — meaning that if we had been going to the same place, he would have arrived about 15 seconds earlier.

I’ve been commuting since…well, sometime around the invention of the automobile. Sometimes, it’s possible to get ahead in heavy traffic, but only if you want to be the person everyone else is going to complain about when they get home.

I have, at times, been that person. I try to remember that when I’m tempted to grouse at someone else.

But here’s what I’ve learned: acting on my impatience doesn’t get me there sooner. It just gets me there madder.

Life can be just like that. There’s the kind of gridlock that you can’t do anything about. Impatience won’t make things better for you, and it may cause you to do things that will make it worse for others.

Sometimes, all you can do is learn to enjoy the ride.

Or at least, God willing, to accept it for what it is.