I Am the Traffic
"In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: It's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am — it is actually I who am in his way.”
- David Foster Wallace
The greatest obstacle in rideshare driving is traffic. Anyone who drives can surely relate. Traffic is the greatest obstacle for any of us on the road. It literally blocks our path.
I drive on average 25 to 30 hours a week for the rideshare companies. I’m not an early riser and I like to leave time for slow mornings before I subject myself to the world, which means I often don’t start driving until the late afternoon and evening rush hour. Aside from Saints season, Mardi Gras, Essence Fest, and Canal Street all the time, the 4:30 to 6pm hours are the most frustrating to roll through the city. It’s helpful to know an alternate route to one’s destination, perhaps a traffic-adjacent one, for there are about 20 different ways to get to any one place here, and maybe one of them is efficient-ish. But still, I wait. Bumper to bumper, through one light and maybe the next. Pedestrians, cyclists, other cars honking or running lights all create an opportunity for frustration. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally curse another driver - even with a passenger in the car, because I do - human is human, but I have found that taking a bird’s eye view helps assuage the instinct to rage.
I am the fucking traffic. I am in someone’s way. The thing that most unsettles me lately is that no one else on the road seems to think they are also in the damn way. Let’s take the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport for example. It is not built to manage the amount of traffic that daily goes through there. Cars enter from two general directions, and in order to get to either departures or arrivals, they may have to cross two entire lanes of traffic which are leading vehicles away from the airport and trying to cross the same two lanes of traffic in order to get the hell out. It’s like a very narrow X with two primary points on either side of the circular drive where this crossing occurs. I recently waited well over 20 minutes to go roughly a half mile to pick my mother up from departures. At midnight! Fortunately, we were smart enough to make the arrangement so I didn’t have to wait another ten to 15 minutes by going through the arrivals loop.
But I digress. My point is that if we are all at the airport, we are all going one of two directions, in or out. So why are you going to get angry with me and honk when I sneak into the lane in front of you - at five miles an hour - when you know damn well I have to eventually get there and cars are lined up behind you and we’re almost to the place where it’s no longer possible to switch lanes? Like, share the road, man! Have some fucking patience for fuck sake!
Honestly, I don’t know if the traffic here is bad. I don’t recall driving or riding in traffic when I lived in New York City, but I know it’s bad in Atlanta and my passengers from Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York often comment that our traffic is underwhelming. Still, I wait. And then I get on the Interstate and go fast and slow because that’s how it’s done. Hurry up, ease off, change lanes, don’t hit anyone else, don’t let them hit you.
I see an accident at least once a day here. Sometimes they’re wee bumps and the drivers get out of their respective vehicles to check the damage, nod at each other, and go on their merry ways. Sometimes a car is flipped upside down. Sometimes there’s glass all over the road and a front bumper or a side mirror a few feet away. This city isn’t built for this many cars, and laws here - traffic and otherwise - are more suggestions than strongly enforced rules.
Even when traffic flows, it’s still thick with obstacles. Pedestrians walk streets as if they’re in a theme park, especially in the French Quarter along Bourbon Street. I don’t understand why cars are even allowed to cross Bourbon or to travel within two blocks of Bourbon between Canal and St. Philip. It doesn’t make sense, and pedestrians get really mad at you when you try to cross Bourbon. Fuckers. It’s like that sugary-ass Hand Grenade cocktail in that silly plastic funnel is the Scepter of Control and someone made him the King of Trash ( cause Bourbon smells like garbage even after the morning wash) and how dare anyone pass before you! Yo, tourist guy, my car will always be bigger than you. At least look before you walk, and please don’t punch my car. It’s so not necessary. We’re all in this shit moment together, and I’m sober.
Cyclists often ride the wrong way down a one-way street, no helmet (not required by law), no lights at night (required by law), and with a chip on the shoulder that appears to replace common sense with common pride. To be fair, I see an awful lot of car drivers without their lights on after dark as well. I’m sure they’re sober, it’s just so bright under the street lamps and all.
Spacial awareness eludes many drivers. New Orleans has a lot of U-Turns and neutral ground dividers with cut throughs that aren’t really big enough to accommodate a car, especially along N. Rampart and St. Claude Avenue, so I appreciate the challenge to somehow angle oneself so as to be completely out of traffic while waiting to cross or turn. But it’s not that hard, kids. It amuses and annoys me that people will leave a good six feet of safe space in front of them while hanging their ass end out in the lane behind them, blocking traffic, pushing traffic to swerve around them and subsequently induce unnecessary horn blowing.
A few weeks ago, when burn out was sneaking quickly upon me and I thought I can’t do this job anymore, I had a beautiful grounding conversation with a passenger. He asked me how I like driving. I get that question a lot, actually. I do love to drive, though I complained that the companies keep cutting driver pay, that they’re rolling back incentives and that’s it getting harder to make a decent wage, and I probably mentioned that it’s exhausting. It was, in my defense, the tale end of Jazz Fest, which is a whole blog post in itself. He listened, and then he talked.
He told me about a friend of his who loves it. He talked about how no one is looking over my shoulder, how I can drive whenever I want, how I can get paid at the end of a day’s work, how I can take a break or vacation whenever I want. These things are all true. They come with strings attached, and it’s more complicated than I will get into right now, but my takeaway was this; in this conversation, an older African American gentleman sweetly and smoothly reminded me of my white privilege. I am able to choose to do this job. I am able to take time off whenever I want. I am able to work without having to report to anyone but myself. I am able to understand, for the most part, how this industry works and to articulate my own opinions and concerns about it. I have the freedom I wanted when I signed up for it, and I have all the attached strings.
Maybe the traffic never leaves you. The noise out there is the noise inside us all. We are all the traffic.