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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Insane or Proactive--The Razor's Edge

My commute to work takes about 20 minutes when there's no traffic.  Unfortunately, there's never no traffic.  It's usually not too bad, though: Door to door usually takes about 30 minutes maximum.  Every now and then, though, there's a major backup.

I usually know when traffic is going to be bad.  I have to cross a bridge on my way to work, and, right on the far side of this bridge, I pass a traffic sign that provides real-time information on the approximate drive-time to various locations.  If the sign informs me that the drive-time to Berkeley is more than about 30 minutes, then that gives me a pretty good idea that I'm going to hit some heavy traffic before I reach my destination (which is about five miles north of Berkeley).

I hate seeing such a message because I immediately suffer a major bout of indecision: Do I stay on the freeway or go local?  Because, from the next exit (after the sign), the trip to work should take about twenty minutes on local roads.  If, therefore, I can assume that the freeway trip would take more than twenty minutes, well, then, logically, I should get off the freeway.  On the other hand. . . .

Well, you've probably figured out the flaw in the logic: If the freeway is backed up, then, quite often, the local road is similarly congested--if only by extra people who had the same bright idea that I had.  Such was the case today, when a major accident caused massive delays on the freeway.  Traffic was backed up for about a mile even before I reached the helpful sign.  I took the first exit I could, and, after cruising along a blissfully empty local road for about a mile and a half, I came upon a line of cars that could best be described as a parking lot.  All told, it took about an hour and a half to make it to my office.

This happens to me frequently--so frequently, in fact, that I've made a resolution: Just stay on the freeway, I tell myself.  No matter how backed up it is, it will still get you to work faster--or at any rate no slower--than the local roads.  I made that resolution some ten traffic jams ago, though, and every time I find myself facing a backed up freeway, I still feel the urge--and sometimes I give in to the urge--to try my luck on the local roads.  Why?

I think it has to do with this overwhelming need to assert control over my own destiny--no matter how futile the attempt may be.  I cannot contentedly resign myself to my vehicular fate when I think there's a chance--however slim--that I can avoid it, that by taking some initiative I can improve my outcome.  One definition of insanity is the constant repetition of a behavior coupled with the belief that it will lead to a different outcome.  I suppose some may look at my behavior, therefore, and call it insane.  I prefer to consider myself proactive.

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