This morning I got in my Camry and drove to the liquor store. Later, my wife took her Camry to the paint store. If you think I’ve run completely out of material and am reduced to egocentric trivia, not yet. I mention this because just a few days ago, attempting these mundane errands in Atlanta would’ve been flat-out insane because of the snow, ice, and all-out chaos on our roads.
I can now safely report that things are normal again. The national press has turned its attention back to Chris Christie, who may be joining Al Gore as the guy who used to be the next President of the United States. (See also Ed Muskie, Henry Wallace, etc.)
But think about it: These two blockbuster stories of the past week both revolved around traffic. Mass-parking-lot-on-the-interstate, inching, dead-stopped, agonizing, frightening traffic. The kind that devours untold hours and tanks of gas, threatens people’s lives, and gashes our collective sanity. Long ago, we gaily allowed cars to take over the landscape, and now we’re like Lou Reed on “Heroin” – “It’s my wife and it’s my life.”
But, you ask, could anyone have ever possibly imagined that things would be this bad? Yup. My uncle, the late Herb Daniels, used to write a Sunday column called “The Modern Almanac” for the Chicago Tribune, and back in 1961 – 1961, folks – he predicted “The Last Traffic Jam.” “In Stoneville, IA, on Sept. 18, 1967” Herb wrote, “Herman Melville Jintz proudly took delivery of the 10,697,935,006th Super Atomic V-8 (world’s biggest compact),” which “took up the last inch of free space on United States streets and highways. As he forced his way into traffic the entire United States came to a screeching, brake jamming halt.”
“The traffic backup extended to the most remote village. Rural routes, obscure lovers’ lanes, and even private driveways, as well as every highway, were solidly packed by stalled cars, buses, and trucks.” Does any of that sound familiar? Maybe just a little?
The column goes on to describe how Kennedy aged so fast that he became the oldest (not the youngest) president in history. Cold War Commie commissars flew over from Moscow to take charge but returned nonstop, with Khrushchev exclaiming, “What could we do with it?” Eventually, “Production of cars was banned until 1999. Private car ownership was limited to six per family. Each car was assigned a daily three hour period in which it could be driven.”
Today, even on a good day, three hours wouldn’t get lots of us to and from their jobs. I doubt that I’ll live to see it, but I devoutly hope the day will come when Herman Melville Jintz is just part of a writer’s imagination again.
P.S: If you want to read more of Herb’s work, you can find it in the Tribune’s online archives or maybe scare up the long out of print collection of his Modern Almanacs. I don’t think he’d mind my borrowing from him a bit, because he always said I was his favorite nephew. Of course he also said he might feel differently if he had another nephew.