Tag Archives: traffic

Caught in the Rush-hour Traffic of Life

Crawling along in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic, covering less than 15 miles in an hour, provokes some interesting thoughts. The first is, “I’m never coming back to this place. How can people have lives here if they have to commute like this every day?”
Another thought is that people caught in this colossal waste of time are indifferent to anyone outside the small enclosures of their vehicles, or worse, they are angry at anyone in their way. For example, the woman in the next car is busily texting while she creeps along. The guy in the plumbing truck behind us makes angry faces and gestures because I’m not going fast enough for him, and finally finds a way to creep past us on the side. The guy in the Mercedes weaving in and out of traffic cuts people off and risks involving others in an accident just so he can pull a couple of cars ahead.
Nope. I’m never coming back to Boston again.
But I shouldn’t blame Boston for this. I’ve been in similar situations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, São Paulo, London, Tokyo, and Accra. I’m not trying to drop names here; the point is that in today’s world, clogged traffic like this is a common human experience.
And where are we really when we’re all stuck in traffic?
In Tokyo, I saw a mother and daughter come out of a subway train walking side by side, each furiously texting someone else. If one had disappeared, I’m not sure the other would have known.
How often am I, and how often are you, self-absorbed like that? How often are we oblivious to anything outside our small enclosure of personal space?
I could not undertake to judge any of the people I saw in that situation. Maybe the woman texting in traffic was multi-tasking—arranging an activity for her daughter’s school or keeping in touch with a son home alone. Maybe the man in the plumbing truck was in a rush to get to someone’s broken water line. Maybe the man weaving through traffic had a family emergency.
And if I can’t judge the people around me, what should I be doing with my time? Maybe I ought to be thinking about how I could reach out to others.
That was part of the miracle of the life of Jesus Christ. He knew and tried to meet the needs of others around him, no matter His own needs or wants.
If I want to think of myself as one of His followers, perhaps I need to break out of the walls of my own little enclosure and think about how I could help others get through the stop-and-go traffic of life.

Road Survival II: New Lessons

Midday traffic on Calle Roosevelt.

This weekend we had our first solo experiences in a car in Guatemala. We had some interesting new lessons in surviving traffic and in finding our way home after getting lost.

Lesson 1: Google maps can’t be trusted—but it may not be Google’s fault. Using a Google map to try to find someone’s home, we ended up miles short. But here’s the problem: Guatemalan cities are divided into zones, and each zone has its own street numbers, so it’s theoretically possible to find the same street coordinates more than once in a large city. We think that’s why the map we used on Saturday was wrong. After driving around the Kaminal Juyu ruins a couple of times trying to find the right route to our destination, we backtracked, stopped at a McDonald’s to regroup, and ended up deciding we would try again another day. We had to drive up Calle Roosevelt to turn around, and finding ourselves approaching Walmart, we decided to stop and shop. (Fresh fish, eyeliner, and motorcycles all under the same roof.) Sister S. found a great little dollar store (“Everything 9 Quetzales”) next to Walmart—a bonus—so the day was not a loss.

Lesson 2, from Sunday’s travel on the peripheral freeway around the city: Freeway exits are not well marked. There’s usually one sign, giving you about 15 seconds’ warning, and that sign might be blocked by overhanging foliage.

Lesson 3: If you miss the exit or take a wrong turn, you might have to drive a long ways to find a place to turn around—maybe halfway to San Pedro Sacatepequez.

Lesson 4, learned in returning from across town after dark: big trucks and buses traveling slowly in the right-hand lane may not necessarily have functioning taillights.

With the girlfriend riding sidesaddle.

Lesson 5 (related to Lesson 4): Watch out for motorcycle riders carrying a girlfriend on the back of a small bike capable of handling just one rider safely.  You even have to watch out for bicycle riders on the main boulevards, and maybe even the guy pushing his fruit and vegetable cart home.

Lesson 6: If there’s no parking space on the street where you want to go, you can make one by parking in the traffic lane. People will just have to go around.

Lesson 7: If a bus is parked on the right hand side of the road, be wary because passengers getting off have a distressing habit of dashing out from in front of it to cross the street. They’re always sure they can make it before you get there. But I’m not always sure—especially when they see you, hesitate, and then run. Pedestrians who play chicken with oncoming traffic are prime factors in the stress of driving here.

And, finally, a bonus lesson: Be careful how you open the car door in the church parking lot. If you simply unlock it with the key, without first pushing the button to turn off the alarm, the alarm will sound—and good luck figuring out which button turns it off.



Rules of the Road Here? Survive!!


Three lanes merging at Calle Roosevelt and Avenida de las Americas.

Welcome to the world’s largest dodge car ride, also known as Guatemala City. Be sure to keep your seatbelt fastened at all times and both hands on the wheel—except when you need to cover your eyes.

Screaming in terror is bad form. Muttering and fuming at other drivers under your breath is pretty much par for the curse.

Driving here is not tough just because it’s not the U.S. It’s actually not unlike driving in Manhattan or downtown Chicago. (Have you ever watched three lines of taxis jockeying their way around Columbus Circle at midmorning?) It’s just that you need the reflexes of a race car driver for the speed at which it happens here. It’s like moving up a couple of levels on your Grand Prix video game.

Ready for just a small taste? Slip behind the wheel for the short run from the apartment to the office. Buckle up!

First we have to cross northbound lanes of Avenida de las Americas. Careful—don’t pull out in front of that bus! He’s back a ways, but we don’t know if he’s got brakes.

OK, now to cross the southbound lanes. Wait . . . inch out . . . wait . . . stop! The guy who sneaked up on the shoulder next to you is blocking the view. Let him go first.

Now—hit it! Go!

Great—you’re across.

Slow down! Who knows whether that line of guys walking in the street up ahead will move aside. And traffic on the cross street has a stop sign, but remember, in this city, that’s only a suggestion.

OK, now right on Hincapíe to go up past the airport. Wait . . . wait . . . motorcycle . . . bus . . . go!

Stop! That bus parked just around the corner, in the middle of the lane, discharging and picking up passengers.

Hang back when he starts up again, so you don’t get lost in the black cloud of diesel exhaust.

This is where old school buses from the U.S. come to die. Sometimes they get painted bright new colors. They run till they drop. Sometimes things like brakes, shocks, and clutches get repaired. Sometimes they don’t. One of the rear dual tires might be down to nothing more than cord on the tread, but that’s OK; that’s why there are two of them.

Now that we’re moving again, put the pedal down and pass this bus. Don’t worry about the guy hanging out the back door. He’s got one foot inside and one hand holding onto something, so he’s fine. But go wide of the guy hanging onto the side. He’s got the little gas cap door open and one foot on top of the gas cap, and he’s got an arm hooked around a window frame. (Maybe he didn’t want to pay the fare.) He’ll probably be able to hang on all right—but go wide anyway.

Ease up slowly behind the mom and dad on the motorcycle ahead with the two toddlers in between them. Nobody’s wearing a helmet.

Crosswalk? Where? And no one stops for pedestrians anyway.

Now under the arch of the old aqueduct and around the corner onto Roosevelt, then–BRAKE! Wow, it really raises the old adrenaline level when they wait until the last second and then dash across in front of the car like that, doesn’t it!

Big bus stop right here. Have to fit in between them as they pull out to cross three lanes of merging traffic. Looks like the guy on the left has already been bashed once; better let him go first, then . . . now! Go!

Don’t worry about the Pizza Hut guy on the motorcycle zipping between you and the cars in the next lane. He’s got at least two feet all to himself. But he’ll need to move before we get to our turn coming up on the right. If you have to, inch over that way. He’ll get the hint.

Oh, wow! He just zipped past our front bumper, four feet away, and into that slot between the taxi and the delivery truck on the left. I didn’t think even a motorcycle could fit through there.

Well, problem solved. Now turn right on the street where the office is located. They filled the potholes a couple of days ago, so you shouldn’t bottom out here anymore.

OK, down into the underground, and then back the car into one of these parking spaces. No problem; you’ve got at least a foot between you and the next car.

Now you can relax and take your hands off the wheel.

Your, ah . . . your hand seems to have ripped the seat a bit there where you’re gripping it. But don’t worry about that; we can fix it. And your heart rate will probably be back to normal before it’s time to drive home for lunch.