Here’s a fun fact for your Tuesday: the city of Vancouver, WA has a population of about 160,000 people.
60,000 of them (that’s almost 40% of all Vancouver residents) work in Portland.
…I’m one of them.
For those of you who have never travelled to our little corner of the Pacific Northwest, allow me to give you a geography lesson. Vancouver and Portland are separated by the Columbia River… over which there are a measly two bridges.
Which means, if you’re paying attention, I share a total of seven available lanes with sixty THOUSAND commuters every weekday.
That’s not the Columbia River, but look! My phone has the chicken pox!
Needless to say, my travel time is not ideal. I thought traffic was bad in the Bay Area… but this Portland-Vancouver mess has brought my appreciation for congestion to another level. (Thank goodness I love my job, and that some kind, angelic soul introduced me to audiobooks.)
I tell you all this, because something strangely magnificent / magnificently strange happened to me yesterday.
For the first time since getting this job months ago, there wasn’t any traffic on my way home.
You might not think this is very noteworthy, and that’s because you’re living in a fool’s paradise where driving is a speedy ordeal and traffic doesn’t add two hours to your workday. But for those of you who feel my pain, who have ever felt my pain… I kid you not, I went the speed limit the entire time. I never even had my foot on the brake pedal. Traffic hummed like a gospel choir, smooth and solid and never wavering.
I felt like I was on an episode of the Twilight Zone, and I found myself pondering this anomaly. Did I leave at a different time than usual? Is it a holiday? Any notable weather occurrences? I tried looking at it from every angle, dissecting every remote possibility. Is this even real? Am I maybe hallucinating? Could it still be Sunday night, and I’m actually still asleep in my bed?
Then, I stopped this train of thought dead in its tracks.
Somehow, I became fearful of acknowledging this phenomenon. I seemed to know, instinctively, that if I called attention to it, it might slip away from me. I forced myself to think of other things.
Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Is it because summer is ending, and tourists are going home? NO. Don’t think about it. Or is it the residents who have gone on vacation? STOP. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.
But my car kept speeding along, and I couldn’t help it – I gawked at the world around me in utter disbelief. I was tempted to roll down my window and ask a fellow driver at 60 mph: “What’s going on? Do you know? Why is this happening?”
But I imagined they would give me the same reprimand – “SHHH! Don’t let it hear you!”
I became so deliriously happy with my car’s speed that I actually began to see it as a gift, just for me. I started wondering if maybe I’d done something to deserve it – maybe I’d pleased the karmic gods somehow and this was my reward. I racked my brain for recent good deeds but came up short.
I very literally found myself pleading with traffic to grant me this easy commute again. Tell me what I have to do, traffic! Be nice to strangers? Exercise more? Sacrifice a lamb? But my questions were left unanswered, and as I arrived home – a full 40 minutes ahead of schedule – I allowed myself a sliver of hope that maybe I’d be so lucky again.
Today, I carefully duplicated my Monday routine. Parked in the same spot, left at the same time, took the same route home. It took all my will power not to run to the car when I walked out of the office. I calmly began my journey, trying my best to act like this was a completely normal routine – so as not to tip traffic off to my desperation. As I neared the bridge, I bit my lip and peeked around the corner eagerly.
Before me stood tangible despair, in rows and rows of brake lights.
I dutifully took my place behind a semi-truck, turned on my audiobook, and settled in for my usual ride. Traffic is a fickle friend, and pays no mind to efforts like routine duplication or lamb sacrifices.
Then again, there’s always tomorrow.