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12/18/99 The Merge Concept
11/19/99 Degrees of Sickness
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09/26/99 Serfs Up
09/04/99 Kindergarten
08/15/99 The Son Also Rises
08/06/99 Time to Listen

The Traffic Light

In the olden days, there were no stoplights. People just rolled through intersections hoping to dodge cross-town traffic. During this era, there also were no headlights. We'd wake up in the morning and find cars strewn about the side of the road. It was a real mess, from what I understand.

Then we started to learn. Following the short-lived "headcandle," which kept blowing out when a car reached 5 mph, we invented the headlight. Voilà. Nighttime no longer posed a problem for the stouthearted driver.

Soon after, we devised something called a "traffic light." Clever little invention, that traffic light. One simple color-coded system that would regulate traffic the world over. If you were especially color blind, then you relied on the saying you learned in kindergarten: "Red on top, green below, red means stop, green means go, yellow means wait even if you're late . . . " Indeed, everything we need to know we learned in kindergarten.

Lately, however, I've become less nostalgic about stoplights. In fact, the very sight of them turns my stomach. Every two blocks these days, we find another light. I backed out of my garage last week and found one in my driveway. It took me three minutes to reach the street, where there were two more stoplights, one in front of the other. The first one always turned green just as the other was turning red, so ultimately I had to go back inside and call in "stuck" to work. Later that day, I peed my pants waiting for a light to change in front of my bathroom.

It wouldn't be so bad if the lights were replacing signs. With a light, at least we have the chance of catching a green. But these stoplights are sprouting up with no rhyme or reason. We see stoplights in the middle of roads where no one lives, stoplights where people do live but don't drive, stoplights on horse trails . . .

Granted, there are places where drivers cannot be entrusted with the decision to slow or yield or even recognize a huge red sign that says STOP. In those places, we need stoplights. But I think we've crossed a line between common sense and overprotective-alarmist-counterproductive-anal-retentiveness (hope that doesn't sound like a pejorative). Traffic lights have become another item on our to-do list, there for the taking at the local chamber of commerce. My neighbor pulled in with one in the back of his truck the other day.

Now, I'm not the most patient man in the world. I don't buy frozen dinners that make you microwave at 50% or heat the sauce apart from the main dish because because I don't have that kind of time. I was born into a fast-food world and am growing up into a faster-food world. But even if I were a patient man, it would drive me gazonkers if I couldn't drive three blocks in any given direction without hitting a traffic light. It is mentally damaging. We have reached a new threshold in physics, The Point of Diminishing Stoplight Returns, whereby it is officially less pleasant to drive than if there were no traffic lights at all.

Is Midas in on this madness? The Coalition for an Inefficient America (CIA)? Will there ultimately be so many stoplights that the length of our car will exceed that between lights so that we are constantly running a red? One or two more lights, and I'm finally going to learn how to ride a bike.

In the meantime, I will hear my kindergarten saying a little differently, for now it seems to go, "Red on top, green below, red means stop, green means go, yellow means floor it, sucker, because there's another light right around the corner."


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