Monthly Archives: September 2002

DC Traffic Via Goggle Maps

Economy: Learning from the Beltway

Originally Published by The Brooklyn Rail in September 2002

 “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

“Visualize World Peace.”

“Maryland Terps No.1! Maryland Terps No.1!”

I’m stuck in DC traffic.

The market is driving off a bridge. I only want to cross a bridge. I wish I could fix the economy. I wish I could just get in front of the guy who’s in front of me.

Damn it, I should’ve taken 295. No, 295 is always backed up so is 95, 395, 495, 66, Georgetown Road, Old Georgetown Road, New York Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, not to mention Wisconsin and 29 and 270. Yeah, 270, for the love of all that’s holy, is bumper to bumper to bumper at 5:30 a.m. What are people thinking? DC commuters are like hogs to the slaughter, or former Enron employees applying for jobs at WorldCom.

“I’d rather be fishing.”

“I’d rather be sailing.”

“Fear this!”

“My other car is a Porsche”

I’d rather invest my entire 401 (k) Plan in Tyco that sit in DC traffic. Like many my age, I have only been investing since 1999, when we were told we had to, HAD TO,get in the market. And like many my age, since then I’ve been losing money,LOSING.

If all the bragging in the late ’90s was true (“I get stock options for reading my email!”), then why do I personally know a bunch of people who used to be worth a bundle on paper but who now can’t afford to buy me a beer. To which my friends at Adelphia say, buy the beer on credit and record it as income.

Here’s the only stock tip you need: When the analysts say invest, don’t; when the experts say it’s time to sell, buy. And when someone says you’ll save time driving, take the Metro.

Remember the old saying, “Don’t trust anyone over 30; don’t trust anyone with anMBA”? Doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it? There is more insider information than information. There are more kickbacks than a rodeo. Trust is eroding faster than a Peruvian hillside during a hurricane. So now, just when you think Wall Street has hit a wall, no, it keeps on going—driving down Main Street, smashing retirement plans like bugs on the windshield.

“How’s my driving? Call 800-EATSHIT.”

“I make wide turns.”

“They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.”

If only Wall Street could have been moved onto the DC beltway in the fall of 1999, it would be STUCK LIKE I AM RIGHT NOW. And sometimes going nowhere is the best destination. For instance, when standing on the edge of the Hoover Dam, it is better to stay put than step forward, young grasshopper.

Oh yes, a slow and steady market would have had the experts and analysts screaming and whining like Ned Beatty in Deliverance.“You need to keep on investing.” “Now’s a good time to be in the market, a bad time to be out.” “You need to keep pissing up a rope.” Nevertheless, had we just stayed put, the DOWJones would be over 11K, NASDAQ would be worth twice as much as it is currently, and Rob Lowe would still be on West Wing.

But I want to move. Yes, I wish the market were still on a Clinton high, but I’d rather get in front of the bastard who just got in front of me. Damn him. Who does he think he is? ASSHOLE!

“Support Choice.”

“It’s a child not a choice.”

“I have children and I vote.”

“I have children and I vote, so they have choice.”

I’m tired of sitting here, reading bumpers, listening to the radio news, hearing yesterday’s political quotes—everyone so absolute, “Let me be perfectly clear.” “Make no mistake.” “There’s no question.” Translation: “The next thing you will hear will stray from the truth and possibly from sanity.”

But let ME be perfectly clear, DC traffic sucks, make no mistake. And there’s no question that I am stuck in a goddamn backup on the beltway between the “mixing bowl” (where 95, 495 and 395 merge) and the Wilson Bridge (which leads from Virginia to Maryland—the DC beltway isn’t actually in DC). It’s 6:36 a.m.  I’ve been for in this jam for 17 minutes and have gone 0.3 miles. That’s about 1.1 miles per hour.

“You do that Math.”

“My daughter is an Honor Student.”

“Proud Grandparent of a Dean’s List Kindergartner.”

“We honor all our students at JFK Junior High.”

I wonder if that is John F. Kennedy— Junior High, of John F. Kennedy Jr.— High.

Oh, ooh, oohh, the traffic is moving. Here we go, here we go. And here we stop. Well, it wouldn’t be called stop and go traffic if it didn’t.

“Northern Virginia Drivers Suck” (on a car with Virginia Tags).

But honestly, with the second worst traffic in the nation, Northern Virginia drivers do suck. Cutely abbreviated “NoVa,” and quite accurately too, since, “No va” is Spanish for “does not go,” NoVa drivers spend an average of 89 hours per year struck in stand-still traffic.

As a Northern Virginia driver, my only response is, “Screw you, drivers everywhere suck.” In Pennsylvania, Maryland drivers suck. In Oregon, California drivers suck. In Oklahoma, Texas drivers suck (well that one’s true).

In spite of this, when stuck in traffic, one has time to ponder philosophical commuting conundrums and road rage riddles: What’s the sound of one finger rising? If you’re stuck in traffic, and having a conversation on your cell phone about how you’re on your cell phone only because you’re stuck in traffic— are you really saying anything at all? Are bad drivers drawn only to the Honda Odyssey or is there something in the Modern-Mondo-Maxi-Mini-Van that attracted them, too? Why am I obsessed about getting in front of the guy who’s in front of me?

Why? I’ll tell you why. That bastard just cut in front of me for no other reason than to cut in front of me. BASTARD. YOU BASTARD! Oh, for the love of God, he’s got a Jesus fish on his bumper. And another that reads, “WWJD?” I don’t know what Jesus would do, but I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t be DRIVING A LEXUS LIKE ANASSHOLE!!!!

That’s it. The CEO oath: “I may be a little off balance, but if it gets me ahead of the other guy, well, that’s fantastic.”

And besides, everyone’s doing it.

“Gore/Lieberman” (faded)

“Nader/LaDuke” (really faded)

“Bush/Cheney” (shiny and new)

“Don’t mess with Texas” (eternal).

If the President really wanted to save the economy, he would sell bumper stickers. Yeah, that’s the solution. Forget war bonds. Bush should sell war-on-terrorism bumper stickers. “My other car is a Patriot Missile.” “Got Bombs?” And even a stenciled decal of a “bad-boy” taking a leak on Bin Laden’s head. Heck, judging from Bush’s recent past, he could even sell them to kids. Yeah that’s right, bumper stickers and a car wash on the White House lawn. Or maybe he could do it door-to-door, kind of like Little League stickers, except the President of the United States would be doing all the selling. Come on, who wouldn’t buy a lousy bumper sticker from the President?

I see a Darwin fish on the back of a car. It’s like a Jesus fish with feet. Two lanes to the right, a Darwin fish is eating a Jesus fish. Then two cars ahead on the left, on the bumper of a Corolla, a Jesus fish that reads “Truth” is eating a Darwin fish with feet.

I drift into thought. In a survival of the fittest test, if Jesus snuffs out Darwin, isn’t Darwin the winner? And yet somehow dead?

“My kid says the pledge of allegiance with Pride.”

“God Bless America.”

“God loves America.”

“One nation under Allah.”

Shit, we’re moving. Shit, we’ve stopped. That’s why they call it moving-and-stopped traffic.

Yes, make no mistake, DC traffic sucks. But it does so with patriotic pride. Before September 11, every day, every commute, I could guarantee that you would be cut off by someone blubbering, smoking, cell-phone-talking, soccer mom, office-park-dad, asshole in a oversized SUV. But since September 11, every day, every commute I can guarantee you that you will be cut off by someone blubbering, smoking, cell-phone-talking, soccer mom, office-park-dad, asshole in a oversized SUV with an American flag in the window.

“OBX” (Outer Banks)

“MV” (Martha’s Vineyard)

“NYC” (Self Explanatory)

“ASS” (Looking at the driver, also self explanatory, [although it really means Assateaque Island])

I can’t take much more of THAT BASTARD BEING IN FRONT OF ME! Hold on a sec … It looks like … Ahhh, here we go, 15, 2, 35, 45, we’re moving … That wasn’t so bad. Only 47 minutes to go 1.7 miles. But now it’s OK, I’m creeping along to another day. I’ll get in front of that bastard later. Right now it’s all good. All nice. All shit. Shit. Why don’t you stop again, YOU FREAKIN’ MORON!!

They said that building all these big roads would eliminate traffic delays, and yet statistics show that after a roadway is widened, the average commute is either unchanged or slower. Whatever, just GET OUT OF MY AMERICAN WAY.Everything I ever needed to know I’ve learned from bumper stickers.

“Mean People Suck.”

“Nice People Suck.”

“Practice Random Acts of Kindness.”

“Teach Tolerance.”

“Save a Human—Kill an Environmentalist.”

“Nuke an Unborn Gay Baby Whale for Jesus.”

So, remember … Invest early; invest often. Stay off the DC beltway. And, do everything you possibly can to get in front of the guy who got in front of you. That, after all, is the American Dream.

All the quotes are actual bumper stickers sighted inside the DC Beltway. When this went to press, the author was still stuck in traffic.