There’s a lot of bad behavior on Minneapolis roadways this summer.
Some of it is mine.
Closed freeway ramps, clogged city streets, irate drivers, people cutting others off, reciprocal honking: What’s not to like? As we slog our way through the summer, we are told to buckle up and get used to it.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is not always helpful. Two days ago, I pulled onto the ramp for southbound Interstate 35W at Lyndale Avenue because the sign said 35W was open. What they meant was: 35W northbound was open. The south ramp was closed. That mistake dumped me onto Hiawatha Avenue, and from there I worked my way back to Portland Avenue, only to discover that the two lanes of southbound traffic were so heavy we sometimes waited for two light changes. And this was at noon. (And no, the bike lanes have not been opened to car traffic.)
The next day, I found myself blocked at the University of Minnesota. Ramps were full because of orientation. If I didn’t have an orientation pass, I was out of luck, they told me at the Washington Avenue public parking. I made my way to a ramp adjacent to the U of M hospitals. A sign announced I could park if I were a doctor or a patient. Well, I thought, I am occasionally a patient: just not now, and not here. This is how a life of crime starts — with small transgressions. I pulled in and took my ticket.
Speaking of the university, no one put up a sign indicating that Church Street is completely torn up and the buildings facing that area have blocked doors. After making my way down Scholar’s Walk, I found myself up against a chain-link fence. I tried going through an engineering building, to no avail. Eventually, I joined with a student’s mother who was on campus for her daughter’s orientation, proving that competitors (for parking spots) can easily become friends in another context. With the help of some cheery people in Lind Hall sitting under a gold and brown banner (I think it had a gopher picture on it) we found a path to the Mall. On the way we chatted and bonded, a kind of Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage experience. I saw her safely to Johnston Hall.
Later that day, coming out of downtown Minneapolis, I found Portland Avenue even more clogged than at noon, with three light changes at 15th Street before I could turn.
But readers have their own experiences with this summer’s blocked and clogged roads. I need not elaborate further.
In short, we can’t get anywhere in our habitual way. And everything takes longer. It’s irritating to a point where we find ourselves impatient with strangers stuck, as we are, in interminable traffic. But why are we so frustrated?
First, not just our cars but our psyches are blocked, our desires thwarted. We just want to get someplace and we are prevented by closed roads, heavy machinery and fellow drivers. Also, we Midwesterners like being alone. That’s why we drive around alone in small, tin motorized boxes instead of being on a metro or the “tube” or even a bus. But we are not alone sitting at Portland and 15th, in the middle of everybody. It’s disconcerting and disturbing.
What can we do to calm down? I’ve made a few suggestions to myself.
1) Curb your impatience. You’ll get to where you are going. It will just take longer.
2) Be mindful of where you are. Fellow travelers are interesting. Notice all the styles of cars around you, the varied hairstyles of other drivers. There’s a lot to notice.
3) Show loving kindness to others. Let that guy in from the alley where he’s been sitting for five minutes as drivers maneuver past him. Allow that woman in who is trying to merge from the side street in front of you, even if it means you have to wait for another light change.
4) Wave at the little men and women in green vests. They are trying to help. And since everybody is mad, their life is not easy.
I guarantee they will smile back at you. Once they recover from their surprise.
Judith Koll Healey is a novelist and biographer living in Minneapolis.