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Learning to live with traffic

What a privilege to live in a part of the world that is utterly free of traffic. One can go a month around here without seeing a red, green or yellow light. I don't miss it one bit.

What a privilege to live in a part of the world that is utterly free of traffic. One can go a month around here without seeing a red, green or yellow light. I don't miss it one bit.

There are stop signs, but most of them in rural areas are pretty roll-throughable. You slow down, but to completely stop would be ridiculous since there isn't a vehicle in sight for as far as you can see in any direction.

Yield signs? They're for show. You slow down if there's a big bump there, but otherwise, it's pretty safe to rumble on through.

With an average of one deputy per 5,000 square miles, your chances of getting busted for a minor traffic violation in the countryside are almost nil. In fact, if you're driving badly enough get stopped out there, you probably deserve whatever you get.

But what a shock when a hick used to empty, unpatrolled roads ends up in a city where people sit stuck in traffic for hours on end.

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Traffic in Phoenix can slow down to a crawl at any given moment, even on a Sunday morning. And the drivers don't seem to get upset. It's just a part of life.

When I get caught in slow traffic, I became restless and claustrophobic. I keep switching lanes, always ending up in the one which is about to stop moving completely.

As the cars in the lane next to me roar by, I become jealous, longing for the freedom of movement of those lucky people in the next lane. I don't know where they are headed, but they are moving, which is more than I can say.

So, blink, blink, blink, I signal my intentions to bud into that lane. Some nice lady in a Cadillac Sedan de Ville lets me in. At least she seems nice - until I see that she is on her cell phone. She just wasn't paying attention.

In fact, everybody in the traffic jam is on their cell phone. Apparently, that is how people pass the hours in traffic without going bonkers. They conduct business, scold their children, make dinner reservations, sell stocks and set up tee times while they're behind the wheel of a car that is going nowhere.

But what about those people who drink a lot of coffee to get them going in the morning? Doesn't stop-and-go traffic push them past the limit?

Ah, soon the question was answered. As the traffic stood still going on 45 minutes, one car took a sharp right turn, cut a swath across two lanes of stand-still traffic and headed for the roadside. Once there, its passenger indulged in a very public form of relief. A second car followed, then a third, and soon it became a trend.

I was more glad than ever that I passed on that second pot of coffee.

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The clock ticked. Pounding on the steering wheel did no good. Pulling off to the side a bit to see what was the matter up ahead did no good. Pulling within 6 inches of the car ahead of me did no good. There was simply no escape. I was stuck.

It finally hit me that I had no place I had to be. I was just wandering , hoping to find a coffee shop somewhere. The world wouldn't end because I was going to be late getting to nowhere in particular.

Eventually, I did what the more experienced drivers do. I accepted my fate. I even began to view the traffic jam as an opportunity to spend some time alone without anything else to do, sort of like when you get stuck in the waiting room of the doctor's office for an hour and get caught up on year's worth of People magazines.

I found a good radio station from the local college. My tapping on the steering wheel was to the music, not out of impatience.

When the traffic gradually worked its way up to a normal clip, I was sort of disappointed, kind of like when a blizzard would fizzle back in grade school and we would have to go to school an hour late instead of getting to miss the whole day.

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