As a displaced native of the great megalopolis that stretches from Boston to Washington DC, I believe I am uniquely qualified to speak to the issue of traffic in our fair city. Especially since I also spent 30 years in Barrow where a traffic jam meant someone’s dog was crossing the street and you had to wait till it got to the other side, which inevitably resulted in at least a three car backup at the town’s main stop sign.
Life, however, has gotten busier in Alaska. Barrow now actually has something that can, if you look at it sideways with one eye squinting and the other eye shut, resemble traffic. There are brief periods of rush hour traffic when the main intersections in town – and you can tell which they are by the fact that they have the four way, instead of two way, stop signs – actually see as many as seven or eight cars waiting their turn to go through.
There are some who would say the very fact that there are that many drivers in Barrow willing to wait their turn at a stop sign is in and of itself an omen of the end of life in Bush Alaska as we know it. These are the same people who will bore you to tears with stories about driving in Barrow before it got so highfaluting it needed all those darn signs – stories about how the first person to gun their snow machine through the intersection won. But I promised myself I wouldn’t tell those stories today.
I learned to drive on the East Coast and so bring a certain chip on the shoulder quality to my driving. People who only know me from Barrow often look startled as I talk and gesture my way through Anchorage traffic. Being a sensible older lady, I’ve learned to keep my gestures below the dashboard and out of sight of my fellow Anchorites since any and all of them may carry concealed weapons.
After all those years in Barrow, I’d almost forgotten that talking and gesturing were as important to good driving as actually having your hands on the steering wheel while the car is moving.
I once took a cab from Port Authority to my apartment in Brooklyn. Most cabbies in Manhattan don’t like to travel to Brooklyn. They view it as the equivalent of asking a cabbie at Ted Stevens International to take you to Barrow. The trip there might be worth the cash but what is the chance they’ll be able to pick up a fare to make the return worthwhile.
I’d lived in NYC long enough to know my rights and suggested we could either go to Brooklyn or to the nearest police officer to explain why we weren’t going there. The cabbie took off peeling rubber while muttering under his breath and gesticulating wildly to no one in particular. He was in the fourth lane on the left when we passed the Brooklyn Bridge exit on the right. From the back seat where I cowered amidst my luggage, I quietly pointed this out. After all, I was a student at the time and could hardly afford the scenic route to my apartment.
The cabbie looked at me through the rear view mirror, slammed on the brakes despite the fact that we were in the fast lane of a major highway and then backed up to the exit while simultaneously cutting across four lanes of traffic. I actually saw god during this maneuver.
I can honestly say that after surviving that experience, nothing I’ve yet seen on our Anchorage roads bothers me. Yes we have traffic. And yes, Lake Otis and Tudor rightfully ranks as one of the high annoyance spots in the city if you are in a car trying to go anywhere. And yes, that annoyance value rises exponentially as you near rush hour traffic.
But all things in perspective, folks. Lake Otis and Tudor would be considered a model of flowing traffic in most of the cities of that great megalopolis I once called home. Until you’ve sat in your car in Manhattan trying to go from 2nd Avenue to 8th Avenue you really can’t say you’ve been in traffic.
My advice for a fix is cheaper than turn lanes and overpasses. Before starting out into traffic, stop and get a nice beverage. Then tune in to some classical music or a public radio show like “Calling All Pets” and turn off your cell phone. Now sit back and enjoy a few minutes of peace and solitude brought to you by your city and state government as you wait for three lights to get through the intersection.
There now. Isn’t that better?