Friday, January 27, 2023

Why big city traffic is my jam

AS HARD AS IT IS TO BELIEVE...this is not a photograph 
(rendering by the author).
I want to tell you about a soul-lifting display of human achievement that I witnessed, a half hour ago. 

A moment worth celebrating. 

I'm writing this at 5:30 on a snowy January evening in my house in central west Toronto. My wife, Helena, and I just got back after an errand that, under normal conditions, would have taken 15 minutes but because of the snowstorm, lasted two hours. 

The whole drive was fun with all sorts of slipping and near misses, but the final five minutes were spectacular. Suspenseful in fact.

We were in our reliable VW Beetle -- loved the world over by brothers and sisters who view the car's presence  as permission to sock their sibling -- and we were three blocks from home.

I was turning left to a street that intersects ours, and from that corner it would be a 50-metre downhill run.

Negotiating the turn was tricky, because a public transit bus -- a casualty of the storm -- sat  stuck on the ice (See illustration.) I had to go around the bus sort of blindly to get to the street and the moment I got past the bus, I was facing an assortment of stuck trucks and cars aimed in all directions. A RushHour gameboard come to life.

One sedan was on the far right sidewalk, looking as if the driver had lost control. But clearly, she or he had tried to navigate around another stuck truck that was spinning its wheels on the icy incline.

A grey van, behind the wheelspinner, appeared immobile but was facing across the intersection. Perpendicular to the street.

Right behind him, an SUV, with its nose right up against the truck’s left rear fender. I am not exaggerating.

Behind the SUV? A Mercedes sportscar. 

I sat a bit mesmerized, wondering what was going to happen next.

One of the furthest-away cars started backing up. The Mercedes nudged forward and up the east sidewalk. I didn't think it would succeed, given the icy hill but up and around the corner it glided, somehow not sliding into anything. They sure make cars way better than they used to.  

The next move was simply acrobatic. The perpendicular van spun its rear wheels and steered the front tires to the left so the van actually moved around as if it were on an axis. It went from facing northeast to east to southeast then the driver quickly turned the front wheels hard to the right so suddenly it was pointed in the right direction, downhill. It slowly drove away, weaving its way among the other stuck cars and freeing up the rest of us. 

The street actually cleared, and I drove, without incident, home.

The scene reminded me of one of those highly complicated Polish folk dances where the participants glide around and beside and and over and through one anothers' arms and legs and you never know who's going to wind up where.

But those dancers are coached. This mid-city vehicular mazurka was improv'd. Nobody exited their vehicle or honked. Six or eight drivers just realized the fix they were in, used their noggins and calmly  solved the problem.

Remember the stuck bus I mentioned earlier? While all this other stuff was going on, it also got traction because two gentlemen in a delivery truck stopped mid-intersection, and for some reason, had a bunch of sandbags that they opened and spread under the bus's wheels. I love those guys.

My whole reason for telling you all this is that the show reminded me, once again, that 99.9 per cent of people drive okay.

The huge majority of vehicles get where they’re going with incident. They brake when they have to; they  avoid crashing into anything; they don’t cause problems. Hard to believe, I know. 

I've always loved driving, especially in the city. It's probably the only sport I'm any good at. 

Driving in the city as long as you're not in a hurry, is good for you: your reflexes; your mental health, you get to go places and see people and parts of the city you've never seen before, and city driving does wonders for the human spirit. 

Or maybe it's just me.

In any event, the extraordinary behaviour I just described happens in various contexts every day, in every country, all around the world; and you will never read about it anywhere. 

No crashes don't make the news.

Except here maybe.

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