When traffic grinds to a halt and commute times go off the charts like they did during last Thursday's drizzly afternoon commute, there is nothing like a little levity to lighten things up.
Leave it to WCCO Radio (830 AM) afternoon drive-time host John Williams to come through with a 2-minute parody that he introduced as "Your 5:12 WCCO Traffic Minute Mantra."
The piece with angelic music and the sound of trickling water featured a calm voice that comes on the air and says, "If your commute is taking longer than normal, breathe and say, 'I am bigger than my problems.' "
The advice is the same for freeway hostages who spot others using their idling time to tap out a few text messages, a no-no under state law, by the way.
"If the person in front of you is texting, breathe and say, 'I am bigger than my problems.' "
Those pinch points that call for the dreaded "zipper merge" are always a place of contention, what with impatient folks who zoom to the merge point and expect motorists who have been waiting a long time to let them in.
When that happens, just breathe and say, "I am bigger than my problems," the voice says.
But just once.
"The next time Chucklenuts comes up from behind on the left side and gets ready to cut in line at the last second, block his path, breathe in and say, 'Not on my watch, sucker,' " the voice says in a snarly tone. "Straddle the line, weaving back and forth to maintain your spot in line without letting him pass. He is your problem … and you are bigger than this problem."
Zipper merging "is cheating," the voice says, and drivers should "ram him if necessary."
(That view might be seconded by Claire Gallagher, who left me a voice mail recently. She isn't a fan of zipper merging because "people get madder than hell because somebody pulled in front of them.")
Williams, of course, is not advocating reckless behavior on the roads.
"The hook is that even calm and reason loses its mind when we endure something like this," Williams said. "People were thankful we did it. We were just trying to make them smile."
The segment got a laugh from the State Patrol's Lt. Tiffani Nielson, who heard it during her 1 hour 45 minute ride from St. Paul to the western suburbs. But it was a little disconcerting, she said.
"It was funny, but don't actually do it," she said. "That was really bad advice. The zipper merge is to maximize lane capacity until the last opportunity. You are supposed to use both lanes. You should not straddle. You can get a ticket for that. This creates misinformation."
Nielson recognized that the segment was done with a sense of humor, but it's not wise for drivers to put themselves in a bad situation and risk getting rear-ended or a road-rage situation.
"Let's keep it as good as possible for everybody. Don't be a jerk. We are all in this together."
Williams said listener reaction was so strong that a second installment of "Traffic Minute Mantra" was produced for Friday's show. But it was not without thought on how it would be received.
"This comes up when we do bits like this," Williams said. "I never look behind the curtain. I leave it to adults in the room to figure it out."
The bottom line, when stuck in traffic, just breathe.