As you read this piece, you will probably notice that certain car models mentioned are now defunct. As well, phones don’t need conduits anymore. Confession: I wrote this in a former life, when I commuted on Southern California freeways. Traffic jams do give drivers the opportunity to reflect, use their imaginations, and other unsavory things, so I had a lot of time to compose this in my head. Unfortunately, except for a few outdated references, Southern California commuting is almost the same hell that it was for me, but is now even worse. And Orange County is, well,… still Orange County.
Orange County Historian
At 7:30 that Monday morning
all Orange County freeways got congested
due to three jack-knifed trucks
(a Peterbilt, a Kensworth, and a Mack)
which restructured twelve cars
(two Subarus, one Honda, two Hyundais
three Nissans, two Toyotas, one Buick and a
one trash-truck tipping over
(spreading its privates for all to see),
stalled Cadillacs and Pontiacs (about seventeen,
all in the number one and two lanes)
several spinouts on the Garden Grove due to Harry
Tubbs (a high school dropout) who overnight
had turned sprinklers away from the ivy
and onto the pavement,
causing the aforementioned vehicles to do
perilous doughnuts on the 22.
Like bathroom drains, on-ramps and off-ramps got
plugged up tight, so the thousands who sought
to get to work or school slowed to a crawl,
then to a stop. Airborne traffic reporters
got so excited they ran into each other
or out of gas, gliding down
to join the mess congealing on the ground.
After an hour of sitting anxiously,
desperate commuters self-consciously
crawled out of the safety of their steel shells
to look ahead, only to see lines of the disabled.
They turned off their engines
began to venture conversations
with their competitors in the race to work,
those who’d sideswiped, tailgated, driven like jerks,
and found them human, decent, companionable,
and, really, just like themselves.
Some commuters fell in love.
Some of those who did not fall in love
abandoned their cars, began to walk. Others
tried phoning to explain to employers
why they were late, only to find that
no one was there. The circuits cooked,
causing Pac Tel’s conduits to explode.
Most lived too far from work to bike or walk.
Schools could not open. Mothers lost control,
sent their children outside where they formed
entrepreneurial gangs, hawking sandwiches and Cokes
they had stolen from refrigerators at home
to BMW and Mercedes drivers fearful
of abandoning their machines.
Truckers opened up their trailers right there,
sold cantaloupes, Cuisinarts, books by Flaubert.
By Wednesday stores and markets ran empty.
Mormons sold provisions from their emergency supplies,
making profits (but faithfully tithing)
keeping many people from dying.
Of course, if you’ve read its history,
you know that Orange County became again mostly
agrarian, families tearing up blue grass lawns
to plant subsistence crops, working from dawn
to tend potatoes, turnips, brown onions;
those near the sea foraging for mollusks,
casting out for bonita, wading in the surf
to spread nets for the barred perch.