Open letter to my fellow drivers in the landlocked o’lakes

Traffic stock photo

Dear driver who is tailgating me, flipping me off, freaking out, cutting me off, and all fellow poor suckers stuck in this unprecedented traffic nightmare we call Minneapolis,

My brother! My sister!

We are more alike than we are different, and if you’d just roll down your window so we could have a conversation, we could find out exactly how.

Until that happens let me just say that I am not your enemy.

I am not your bad boss, your bad friend or whatever bad burr in your saddle that led you to vanquish me on the road like I was one of your video game conquests.

I am not the source of your problems, or the world’s problems.

I’m just a guy trying to share space with you on this planet, and trying to get to where I’m going.

I am terribly sorry I’m in your way.

I am terribly sorry I’m in front of you, and I apologize for all the other cars in front of us. The nerve of them!

I’m sorry you’re late, the bus is late, I’m late. I’m sorry I’m making you later, but I did not run over your dog or do anything else that deserves the level of ire you are working up and I am writing this as much to myself as I am to you.

So, peace.

Take a breath.

Slow down.

For God’s sake.

Slow down.

I mean, I feel you. Since I was a nature-loving little kid growing up in this booming burg, I’ve hankered for the kind of wide-open spaces that Minneapolis affords within the city. Now the crowds and cars have jammed all the circuits, and because they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, we’d better get used to it and get better at the art of the traffic jam.

This summer’s roadwork and highway closures have already made for some mind-blowing stasis. You can name your favorite gridlock nightmare of choice, but this letter was inspired by being caught in rush-hour traffic last Friday… around Bde Maka Ska! Wherein Excelsior Boulevard and Lake Street were at a five-way standstill, turning the lake car path and all surrounding parking lots into a late-for-happy-hour racetrack/escape hatch, and left me muttering “get me the bleep outta here.”

Once upon a time in this city signs pled, “Slow Down We Live Here” — a quaint notion in these days of speed demons and car cranks, and I’m talking about myself, here. I gladly own my own road rage, but as much as I can, in an effort to move things along and be a cog for the common good, I look out for cars merging or desperately trying to make a move, and I try to accommodate them so we can all flow as one.

Kindness, manners, civility.

You might try it. You might get a thumbs up or a blown kiss that will make you feel better about it all. In harmonic moments like that, it feels like all of this madness is just growing pains, and we’ll find our groove. Then again…

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, a quarter-million people have moved to the Twin Cities since 2010, and from the feel of it, they’re all driving cars.

We’re living through the biggest decade for growth since the 1920s, so if we don’t figure out how to live, drive, walk and bike together the way cities from New York to Beijing have, you and I are going to kill each other.

To be honest, I’ve heard you complain more about traffic in this town over the last two years than ever before, and it’s not your imagination. Last year, Quote Wizard Insurance named Minnesota second to California in its list of the worst drivers by state: “One of the biggest movers from 2016 to 2017, Minnesota climbed nine spots from 11th to second worst drivers in the nation. By our metrics, Minnesota saw big increases in accidents, speeding, and citations. If you find yourself driving through the streets of Minneapolis, keep your wits about you.”

And how. What’s more, last year CNBC placed Minneapolis No. 5 on its list of cities with the worst road rage, with this percentage of poll respondents observing: changing lanes without notice (46 percent); tailgating (65 percent); talking on cell phone (87 percent); honked horn (41 percent); cursed at (45 percent); and waved fist/arms (15 percent).

Of course, you’ve got your own story to go with all of the above, and it’s getting old. Three years ago, Twin Cities motorists were named the most insane road ragers in the country, and in this space I told you about the Namaste Mobile. After all the traffic and road rage had once and for all fed me up, I slapped “Namaste” stickers all over my car, writing:

“Couldn’t hurt, I figured. I’d grown weary of so much wordless misunderstanding, born of living too close together on this wild and wiggly planet. Seemingly overnight, this quiet little prairie town has become a tangle of highway congestion and confrontation and all the tailgating, speeding and competition for inches of tar and asphalt and drivers and bicyclists alike regularly flipping out and flipping each other off made me seriously wonder what we are, who we are, and what we’re becoming.”

So I slapped the peace stickers on my ride, but it didn’t work. I had a few good interactions, but the Namaste Mobile is long dead, and the sad truth is that there’s no escaping this traffic other than… escaping it.

I’m penning this letter from the sanity of a writing cabin getaway in a Western town whose occupants don’t want me to reveal its location and therefore blow the lid off its best-kept-secret status the way my hometown has had its irrevocably blown.

I’ve only been here for one day, but the 14-hour road trip across the badlands and away from the numbers has not exactly left me feeling homesick. I can breathe here, and I can see for miles and miles and miles: mountains, rivers, grass, big sky, and all sorts of nature that’s been unimpeded by people and progress.

I’ll be back home soon, but for the moment I’m sucking up the peace and quiet and solitude.

You? I’d suggest some great music, a good podcast or a favorite audio book — whatever it takes to achieve Zen behind the wheel, girds the soul for the looming long, hot summer of gridlock, and allows you to enjoy the sights and sounds of all the condos, construction, and cars, cars, cars…

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at jimwalsh086@gmail.com.

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