With the start of warm weather, Road Work season is in full swing here in the Northeast. Even though most of it is done overnight, the work can continue past the 6 AM stop time and cause traffic issues for those of us trying to get to work on already busy highways. One day last week that scenario played out for me and I was stuck in a traffic jam about 7 miles away from my exit. After a few minutes I was behind a school transportation van and couldn’t avoid noticing a little girl in the last seat because she was staring straight at me. Once she got my attention, she smiled and waved to me until I waved back.
As we inched up the highway I noticed she was doing the same thing to other cars that were passing the van, with mixed results. A few people waved back and she’d smile and go on to the next car, but most of the people didn’t even acknowledge her existence. When the traffic stopped, she would stare at the car next to her, concentration on her face, just waiting for someone to look at her so she could smile and wave to them. It appeared to me that some people gave their full effort to not look at her. Maybe they didn’t want to smile while sitting in a traffic jam, thinking that maintaining the angry face would make the cars in front of them go faster. In that little girl’s world, traffic jams are not a problem.
That incident reminded me of riding in the back of our station wagon as kids. When we all went somewhere in the car, us younger ones sat in the way back part of the station wagon. Did I mention there were no seats back there? Back in those days, seat belts were not required and no one used them, so for us to be sitting back there was no big deal. We could have a lot of fun in the back end of the car. There were many opportunities to annoy my older brothers sitting in the back seat: I could simulate a bug crawling on their neck; I could pull their hair and duck down behind the seat; I could tap their shoulder so they looked at the person sitting next to them and then laugh at them for falling for that old trick; I could sing really loud and/or off-key right behind their ear. Yes, there were lots of things I could do and they couldn’t do anything because we were in the car. As long as I didn’t hear Dad say “If I have to pull this car over...” I felt like it was anything goes.
When bugging my older brothers got boring we’d play games back there, like counting the number of cars of a certain color, or looking for cars from other states if we were on the highway. If we weren’t driving on the highway, we’d exaggerate the turns and roll into each other or amplify the bumps and bang the roof. Eventually, it would get out of hand and Dad would give us the old “If I have to pull this car over…” bit again and we’d calm down – at least for a while. At one point, we had a station wagon that had a third seat – that faced back instead of front. I don’t know whose brilliant marketing plan that was, but you could only fit two kids in it comfortably, it forced you stare at people behind you and it kind of made you feel nauseous going backwards all the time. Besides, it was no fun in the back if you couldn’t even roll around a little bit. I think we just folded the seat down and didn’t use it after a while.
One fond memory I have is riding in the back end of my oldest brother’s 1965 Barracuda. If you don’t know what they looked like, they had a big, sloped rear window. I remember my younger brother and I would lay back there and pretend we were in a military airplane. One of us would say, “Pilot to bombardier. We are over the target area.” The other would reply, “Bombs away!” and we’d whistle to simulate the bombs falling and then make the explosion noises as we made a direct hit. That was one of the few times that the trip was too short and coming in for a landing was not welcome.
I want to be more like that little girl in the back of the van, in whose world traffic jams are not a problem and can even be fun. Maybe I should start smiling at people and waving to them. If they don’t smile and wave back, I can always pretend I’m flying high above the traffic in my B-52. Bombs away!