In traffic with Len Hodgeman
OK, I didn’t actually see a man walking upside down yesterday—but this line from a John Mellencamp song did pop into my head during a rather peculiar event that happened to me.
It was a long, hot day. The air conditioning at my Redwood City office was broken. I was working against a tight deadline, had an important meeting in San Mateo at 5 pm, and was late getting out of the office and on the road.
The traffic was unbelievably bad. Twenty minutes later, I had gone two miles and wasn’t even on the freeway yet. I called my client and told him I’d be late. No problem, 5:30 or even 5:45 would be OK.
I finally get to the freeway onramp—I could have crawled faster than I was driving. I need to go north, but south looks a lot clearer. I swing onto the freeway and pick up a bit of speed—but in the wrong direction. I know that. I’ll get off at Woodside, pick up 280, race north—it’s generally faster—and make the critical meeting.
Wrong. Woodside is just as bad. Oh, did I mention that the air conditioning in my car wasn’t working either? I’m all in a sweat, frustrated, exhausted.
Let’s try a different tack. Take El Camino instead. Uh oh … bad idea.
After an hour on the road, I’m now about a mile from where I started. I call the client and tell him we need to reschedule. He’s cool with it. I’m definitely not cool. But I resign myself to another hour or so on the road, and continue inching ahead until I reach Belmont. I’m thinking about pulling into the nearest air-conditioned place and sitting it out.
I pull up to a stoplight. Wearily, I glance to my left, across three lanes of traffic.
And there on the curb is a young woman, in a light cotton tie-dyed dress—with the telltale white cords of her iPod earphones hanging down from her pageboy haircut. She was dancing like there was no tomorrow, like she was in the coolest, hippest dance club ever, with fun people and great music, having the time of her life.
She’s smiling and rocking and shaking her groove thing. Twisting and gyrating and moonwalking to beat the band. She seemed totally unaware of the heat, the traffic or the bystanders that were keeping their distance.
She was happy. Joyful. Blissful. It just poured out of her, splashing all over the sidewalk, streaming into the street and running up the sides of the cars, washing away people’s hard days and long drives. Suddenly I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
I laughed again and kept on laughing. I wanted the long stoplight to stay red. I didn’t want to leave her. It was sheer pleasure just being on the same planet with her. Even as I looked away to make sure the traffic wasn’t moving without me, I could hear my own music rising. The heat and the traffic no longer mattered.
These words from an old song slipped gently into my head.
Saw a man walking upside down yesterday.
TV’s on the blink,
Made Galileo look like a boy scout.
Sorry ’bout that, let it all hang out.
I don’t remember the heat or the traffic being that bad the rest of the way? Maybe it changed, maybe my attitude changed. Maybe, there are people and situations in life that give us the gift of escaping life for a moment into a totally different space.
Thank you young lady, wherever you are.
photo by vramak
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