Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, I looked around me. It was 5:30 pm and some cars, like mine, were just trying to get home from a normal day’s work. Others, like the car in front of me, with the kayaks strapped to the roof, or the car to my right, with four bikes on a rack in the back, were heading off for a holiday weekend.
But we were all stuck, in traffic, almost at a stop, on Interstate 295.
I looked to my left, at a driver holding his forehead, and then hitting his steering wheel in frustration. To my right, the driver had a look of defeat, and was actually slumped down in her seat as she inched along. An ineffective horn blasted from far behind us, like a cry of exasperation.
But then, another driver let the stress break him down and he suddenly jerked his car onto the shoulder, speeding up and passing two or three cars, and then unexpectedly cutting back into traffic. Cars veered away to avoid a collision and horns blasted all around.
As my heart rate slowed, I let out a sigh of relief that the road ragers were in front of me, at least for now. Aside from this hellish traffic, I was having a particularly stressful day and for a moment, I embraced the reaction of my fellow drivers, and let my forehead rest briefly on my steering wheel.
But then, I glanced in my rear view mirror and I saw something wonderful. The driver, in the car behind me, who looked to be about 25 years old, was singing, and with incredible zeal.
I wondered what he was listening to, and took a closer look at him. He was wearing a short sleeved button down checkered shirt and chunky Buddy Holly glasses. His hair was messy, and was sticking up on one side, like he had just gotten out of bed without brushing his hair. A bedhead cool guy persona was emerging in my mind for him and I imagined that he bought that shirt in a thrift shop and that those glasses were just for show, and probably had no lenses. He probably had a messenger bag in the passenger seat, and I was willing to bet that he was vegan.
My new hipster traffic jam friend was tapping out a beat on his steering wheel and bobbing back and forth in his driver’s seat. And unlike the other drivers, he didn’t look frustrated, or the least bit impatient. Instead, he looked happy. I was liking him more and more.
We were at a dead stop, so I had the time. I quickly started flipping through the radio stations on my car stereo, determined to find the song he was singing. What would my milennial pal like? Would it be Weezer, or Modest Mouse, or maybe some broody Pink Floyd?
After about ten tries, I found it. I stared into my rear view, intently watching his mouth move, as he waved his arms around, dancing in his seat. As the words coming from my radio and the movement of his mouth lined up, I started laughing with surprise.
“Wake me up before you go-go
Don’t leave me hanging on like a yo-yo
Wake me up before you go-go
I don’t want to miss it when you hit that high”
Wham finished up and the next song queued up, and Whitney Houston’s smooth and charismatic voice began.
“Clock strikes upon the hour
And the sun begins to fade
Still enough time to figure out
How to chase my blues away”
I felt giddy with anticipation. Would hipster guy stay with Whitney, or change the station?
To my joy, he snapped his fingers and started singing, still happy.
I looked to my left and the driver there still gripped his forehead. To my right, the driver now looked downright despaired.
But I had no deadline, so why entertain the stress? I turned up my radio and started belting out the song, knowing that that my buddy behind me was doing the same.
“Oh, I wanna dance with somebody
I wanna feel the heat with somebody
Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody
With somebody who loves me”
I wondered if the driver in front of me might glance in her rear view mirror and see me singing. What would she imagine about me and would she scan her own radio to find my song? And above all, would she chime in too?
In this world, with very real troubles, disease, and loss, we really need to be more selective about which things we allow to cause us stress. Traffic is usually just an inconvenience, and is not worthy of the stress-inducing power we give it.
After all, what exactly is a traffic jam? Its a chance to sing my jam, that’s what!
So next time you are stuck in traffic, look around. You just might see me, or my new traffic jam friend, defying the stress, and embracing our inner Whitney!
Join us! Choose happy!