Orange County Historian

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 Unfortunately, except for a few outdated references, Southern California commuting is almost the same hell that it was for me, but is now even worse.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.


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I've been writing mostly poetry for many years and have gotten a number of works accepted in publications and anthologies. I'm most interested in communicating with poets for whom craft is a high priority. I enjoy finding and commenting on poetic gems in other people's work. For my own work, I welcome polite comments, whether positive or critical.

6 thoughts on “Orange County Historian”

  1. Dreamy! It recalled to my mind, a time, years ago, when I (and many others) became stuck on a highway during a snowstorm…the state closed the road with us on it…we should have traded hot chocolate and coffee and bowls of hot soup! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i wouldn’t have thought it until you posted your comment, but i do see now that the poem is “dreamy.” certainly the last few lines about how orange county became agrarian is a dream. but as you dreamed while trapped on a snowy highway (must’ve been terrifying) of hot chocolate and bowls of hot soup, i escaped the realities of traffic jams by day-dreaming. perhaps our minds do whatever is necessary to keep us from going crazy. thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! — michael


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