On Friday, a dear friend of mine got married. He met his wife a few years ago – at the traffic lights. He had stopped as the lights turned red and absent-mindedly looked at the car next to him. He smiled at the girl behind the wheel. She gave a tiny wave back. He wound down the window and said something nice. Lights went amber. She smiled and said something nice back. Lights turned green. She hesitated slightly, then waved and drove off. My friend was besotted. He went home and left no stone unturned in his mission to trace her and, happily, he managed.
This, ladies and gentlemen is a story of hope. This love story was born back in the days when there was still such a thing as rush hour and when ‘stuck in traffic’ meant you were only 10 minutes late.
Had the couple met today, the traffic lights would have turned green 25 more times and they’d still be stuck to the same spot. They would have had the time to swap not just the mobile number but also life stories, family trees, work history and, with their cars stalled next to each other, they would even have listened to favourite music together.
He would have been able to offer her a sandwich from his lunch pack, spared himself the agonising task of tracking her and an hour-and-a-half later, as the traffic would have started inching away, he would have been able to ask her out on a date.
See? This is the way forward from now on. We have to stop thinking of traffic as, erm, traffic, but start perceiving it as a time and space for, um, other things. Come morning, we do not open our eyes and shut them quickly at the thought of the daunting commute ahead – no, we must be cheery and positive, and think how lucky we are.
Look at China. A few years ago, commuters got stuck in traffic on the 50-lane Beijing-Zhangjiakou highway. For 10 days. Ten. Days.
The bumper-to-bumper gridlock spanned 100km and vehicles moved a little more than half a kilometre a day. Stranded drivers passed the time sleeping, walking around or playing cards and chess; and local villagers did some brisk business selling instant noodles, boxed lunches and snacks as they weaved between the parked cars on bicycles. So let this be a lesson in fortitude – let us learn from our Chinese friends and use time stuck behind a wheel more constructively.
Here are some tried and tested ideas:
1. Play Spot-the-Ivan-Grech-of-WinterMoods-on-a-billboard game. So far I’ve seen this year’s national treasure, sitting on a sofa promoting an upcoming concert; asking us to kiss him while drinking Coca-Cola; telling us he’s started a university course. Did I also see him in the gym advert or was that just a mirage?
2. Clean your car. If you can’t handle the too many lives of Ivan Grech, then look down and clean up. Pack a bag with you in the morning and get it out with the first signs of traffic. Dispose of all the snack wrappers, empty water bottles, guilty pastizzi paper bags, circus flyers and newspapers from five years ago. By the time you reach your destination, you will feel a major sense of accomplishment.
3. Reflect on roundabouts. Particularly if you happen to be stuck in traffic in Fleur-de-Lys. Please spend time to contemplate on the pointlessness of having an (ugly) (monstrous) brand new Wignacourt arch built in the middle of a roundabout. But then again, contemplate how maybe this will one day become Malta’s Arc de Triomphe and how the Ħamrun main road will become the equivalent of the Champs-Élysées.
4. Take a nap. One time last week, as I stalled and sat and stared, I drifted off into a mini power nap. There is no need for our eyes to be constantly on the road: angry car horns (and furious strings of “****!!”) are the perfect signal to get in gear again.
5. Change lanes. Squint your eyes, take a fish-eye stock of the traffic situation and change the lane, because the other lane always seems to be going faster, doesn’t it? Repeat every 10 minutes.
6. Read the newspaper or a book – but beware the warden. Holding anything in your hand is a distraction and you can be slapped a fine.
7. Listen to audiobooks or TED talks podcasts or the news. Make sure you change channels every time there’s a soundbite by the Transport Minister that will make you want to gnaw your knuckles or chew gum. But remember the Budget: chewing gum is expensive now.
8. Listen to the radio DJs’ mindless banter and tut-tut, or just sing out loud.
9. Spot fellow drivers with fingers deep in their nostril. Keep staring at them till they feel your glare. The minute they look up, raise your eyebrow.
10. Eat chocolate. God knows, we need happy endorphins to help us last out the road congestions.
Reader, please note that any other suggestion will be taken up immediately. Meanwhile, a toast to our traffic lights’ bride and groom: here’s to a wonderful life of love and laughter together.
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