A person driving home has to go through the city. While he usually takes the turnpike to avoid traffic, he needs to stop at a store in center-city to make a purchase. On his way to the middle of town this driver is pleasantly surprised to find every single traffic light green. He doesn’t even have to slow down once. This causes him to wonder whether paying the tolls to take the turnpike home everyday are even worth it!
In the specialty store where the man must make a purchase, there is a very long line at the single open register. He contemplates coming back later, but decides to at least scout out the items under the glass counter. A sales clerk asks the man if he needs some help. While he is there and now getting some personal attention, he might as well find out the specific prices of the items he’s interested in buying!
“Yes, may I please see these two items up close?” he asks. Upon closer examination, the man makes his final decision to buy his favorite. The sales clerk chooses to ring the man out right then and there. Neither of the two people engaged in this encounter pay any attention to the lengthy line at the other register that has doubled since this sale began.
How lucky I am, the man thinks to himself, as he gets back into his vehicle to continue his trip home. As he coasts through more green lights, he might hear a hint of a remembrance of someone from the store he just left mentioning the irregularity of the traffic lights today. Why ponder good fortune? he dismissively wonders right before noticing an elderly woman stepping onto a crosswalk.
Our driver slams on the breaks, producing a small screech of his tires. Between the sound and his waving, the old woman realizes the driver is intent on letting her cross. She does so very slowly. With each new vehicle forced to stop behind the Good Samaritan, his feeling of importance grows. I made it possible for an elderly individual to have safe passage across this treacherous road, he muses. The feeling of power is heightened when he allows the now long line of traffic to begin moving again.
Wait! Someone else is getting ready to jump into the road! They are not on a crosswalk, though. Also, they are clearly nimble enough to jog across at a natural break in traffic, the driver assesses. And, the conclusion is to give the jaywalker a warning toot of the horn, while weaving a little to ensure there is plenty of space between the pedestrian and vehicle. With an additional silent internal warning of following the rules and heading patience, our driver dismisses all further thought of the incident.
Had he sat through a rotation of red lights when allowing the elderly person to cross the road? How could every traffic light still be green? the driver wonders as he continues home. There are dozens of green dots dangling from dark metal branches for miles, ahead. They would look like a gloomy green airplane runway, if it weren’t for the buildings lining each side of the boulevard!
Luckily, the road is plenty wide enough for our driver to swerve out of the way of a small fender-bender. It doesn’t look like anyone was seriously hurt, our driver notices as he slowly passes. The hit car must have tried making an illegal right on red, when there wasn’t quite enough clearance, our driver concludes. The city can be a treacherous place to travel. Perhaps the turnpike is safer. No one pulls out in front of you speeding along on the turnpike.
It isn’t until this lucky driver gets safely home and turns on the news that he remembers seeing some of the faces of people sitting at red-lights on the side streets. Coasting through green-light after green-light, our driver turned from time to time, glancing at the cars waiting for their chance to enter this magical thoroughfare. They looked angry and irritated. Come to find out, the road our driver had traveled had been victim to a traffic light malfunction. As it turned out, his drive home really had been magical; The lights hadn’t changed for over an hour. It just so happened that he turned onto the road that had been broken in his favor right when the lights became stuck on green. His brief stop in the store hadn’t been long enough for him to escape this lucky coincidence! He drove all the way home, before city workers fixed the lights, and travelers on side streets could safely exit their parked prisons!
Some couldn’t escape. There were vehicles that ran out of gas, engines continuing to run in hopes that the light would turn green at any moment. These clogged the narrow side streets as others honked at them, trying to get around. Additional fender-benders occurred. Pedestrians jumped to the steps of buildings as vehicles hopped the curb and drove on sidewalks.
None of this was reported on the news. A more important story about a business merger had captured the headlines. Our driver will never learn about the fate of the fender-bender he’d passed during his green-light adventure. A Ford Crown Victoria that was driven by a man who grew up delivering giant cubes of ice, cut from a pond in Northern Maine’s freezing cold winter for summer iceboxes, the first refrigerators, had experienced a heart attack. His soon to be widow was driving him to the hospital, because they thought that they couldn’t afford an ambulance. In his childhood, they would have harnessed horses and sleighed across town, snow hiding all traces of road and property boundaries. Now, one desperate right on a red light found them trapped in a lengthy waiting period while police officers interrogate the other driver. Was he drunk? Driving without insurance? A wanted man? Who knows?
Our lucky driver does remember this green-light adventure one more time. There is a day when he ventures into the city for an errand. Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, he sees a pedestrian skipping through cars to cross the street. The frustrated driver thinks back to the jaywalker he didn’t allow to pass. Oh, to be free to run around the streets, our temporarily-stuck driver thinks to himself.
But, how free is he, really?