As I drove to work this past week, my most dreaded COVID-19 related fear was realized. Not a positive test result for myself or someone I care about. Without trying to minimize this virus at all, I don’t think about those things too often. The estimates change on a regular basis but I’d guess that my likelihood of dying from this pathogen is significantly less than one tenth of a percent. If my possibility of a good outcome in a given circumstance were that low I would be utterly without hope, and so I don’t perseverate on it all that much as a negative. I remain pretty diligent regarding precautions. Gloves, mask, distancing whenever I’m in public, or taking care of patients. Not feeling overwhelmingly at risk isn’t a valid reason to pointlessly expose myself, and by extension my family, to an illness that has the capacity to end a life. Still, if there was a time where my health was the biggest worry of the day it ended about three weeks into “the big pause”. At that time I came to two realizations. The math was dramatically in my favor in terms of remaining virus free. The roads were virtually empty, turning my fifty-five mile commute from a soul crushing hour and a half exercise in anger management to a tidy fifty seven minute journey into the world of lower blood pressure. I had been aware of the dramatic upgrade in my daily roundtrip to work as soon as Governor Cuomo closed everything down. What changed for me at the above referenced time was the realization that if my likelihood of a mortal infection was very small, a return to the slow death of sharing the road with people that don’t belong on it was an inevitability.
I’ve written about this before but it may not actually be possible to overstate the misery that a small but determined minority of people can inflict on everyone around them when they operate a vehicle with that unique blend of incompetence and malignant narcissism that seems to peak right around the time that I usually find myself behind the wheel. Or so it seems. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve found myself slowing to a crawl on some ironically named expressway only to finally pull free and realize that the whole mess was precipitated by a single loser using the far left lane to toddle along at eight miles an hour under the posted speed limit. Not wanting to repeat myself I’ll skip a protracted recap of the other article and just suggest that the newer reader take a few minutes to peruse it at their leisure. Suffice it to say that after only three weeks of absolutely blissful, aggravation free motoring, the unavoidable shit storm that lay in waiting began to present itself to me.
It wasn’t a sudden deluge. More of a mist that became a drizzle and then turned into a steady rain that finally picked up until I couldn’t deny that I was negotiating my way through a downpour of those that might be charitably thought of as vehicularly challenged. At first all was fictionally well. From the time the powers that be were telling all non-essential workers to stay home (March 20th in New York) until the middle of April my trip to work might just as well have been taking place in the middle of the night instead of the typical rush hour time of seven forty-five. If I had driven blindfolded and had traced a series of figure eights across the highway I wouldn’t have come close to another car. It was like finding myself in the outtakes of I Am Legend. Frankly, I should have been creeped out to find myself alone on the Throgs Neck bridge at just shy of nine o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday, but I was too delighted with the idea that driving to work could be a chest pain free endeavor. And then, little by little, it happened. Nothing jarring, just the occasional reminder that at some point paradise would be lost.
Somewhere around the time that I normally would have been filing my taxes and hoping to be just another face in the crowd, I started seeing the infrequent but undeniable signs of a return of the kind of people I’d been so happy to be away from. Nothing impactful at first. A random moron who couldn’t seem to pick a lane. The odd frightened rabbit that tends to feel most secure at exit ramp velocity regardless of the fact that they’re clogging up the center of the road. Of no consequence, as they were very much the exception. No real labor in getting around them, and certainly no loss of time in transit. By the time another month had passed that was no longer the case. The list of transgressions hadn’t changed but there were definitely more idiots engaging in their own brand of unconscious vehicular irritation. I figured the first wave of fear had started to ebb a bit and people were moving around a bit more, even if they weren’t yet back to work. My commute hadn’t lengthened but I’d started to have several incidences per drive in which I had to actively work my way through or around some momentary congestion that had nothing to do with the volume of traffic. One week later I rediscovered that driving with one hand allowed me to keep my options for crass self expression open. It was down hill, and not slowly, from there. In the last two weeks I’ve come to once again know the savage joy of referring to someone else as a useless, busted cunt. And as Emily Post probably never said, once you start dropping the C bomb, the party is coming to an end, if it isn’t already over. The parade of assholes is only costing me a minute or two, so far, but I know that by the time the summer begins, in earnest, I’ll be lucky not to be back to an additional forty percent in travel time. So here I am. I’m trying to enjoy the fact that the uptick in stupidity hasn’t yet robbed me of any significant portion of my day, but I can see it coming. Still faint, and softly outlined, there’s no way around it. I realize what I sound like, and trust me, I’m grateful for my health and continued ability to earn a living. It was just nice to go to and from work without spending every second wishing I lived or worked somewhere else. Stay safe.*
*Nothing is safer than not getting in your car.