Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The sound and look of the recession, told through a traffic report

Minnesota traffic is a bit unique. Well, perhaps not unique, but given our stereotype of niceness, it's a bit surprising. Drivers here are among some of the most passive aggressive drivers in the country. While we feel we are nice and generally rational people, we also don't appreciate that jerk cutting us off at the last second on 394. The response? Obviously it's to tailgate for a mile and then pass the car in the next lane, glaring at the driver the entire time.

In stop-and-go traffic, do not plan on getting into a lane, regardless of where you are merging from, unless you are willing to risk a possible accident. People will not let you in, as they feel that since you have just come into the area, you have no right to just merge in front of them.

Lately, I've been noticing some situations and sounds that are rather new to the Minnesota drive. I feel like it is related to the added stress and pressure of money that has become so apparent in most of our lives. I feel like people are beginning to lose perspective on rational driving and becoming more aggressive as the pressure of money, or lack thereof, rises.

First, the other day while driving into Minneapolis, someone had a flat tire, which they stopped to replace on the freeway. In the Lowry Tunnel. I understand that a flat tire is a big deal. But really? At 8:00 am? In the Lowry Tunnel? I give Minnesotans more credit than this. The Hiawatha, and U of M exits are a 1/2 mile from the tunnel. He couldn't make it that far? I blame a preoccupation with cost and investment on the poor planning and reaction of this driver.

Second, I've been noticing a lot more horns. Minnesota drivers are not typically ones to use their horns a lot. That would constitute aggression. And Minnesotans are certainly not aggressive. They will claim they don't know what passive aggressive means and deny it upon learning the definition. Again, I see the added stress of getting through traffic, wasting gas, wondering how much money you'll have next week, next month, next year. People have become more and more aggressive, which I think is due to the constant economic situation that doesn't seem to bring any good news.

Traffic has become rather unbearable. The thing that was nice about Minnesota drivers was, during the week, everyone was on the same page when it came to reaching their destination: get there as quickly and efficiently as possible. On Saturdays and Sundays, people weren't in such a hurry, but still were more interested in getting to their destination in a timely manner. The treatment of people who were not abiding by these unwritten rules were treated similarly to the cutting-off-on-the-freeway situation noted above.

Now, there seem to be an unruly amount of accidents. And worse yet, every lane on the freeway will be stopped. In the morning it takes me almost a half hour to get to work, and 45 minutes to get home in the afternoons, and I live less than 10 miles away from my job. Sunday driving seems to be a contest to see who can drive the slowest in the left lane. I feel like there is a certain dread to dealing with the destination. Drive slower and it will be longer until you have to face more financial worry, at home or at a restaurant. Any place reminds everyone of the financial shortfall we're experiencing these days.

Yesterday, NPR reported the recession ended. Today it took me an hour to get home and I heard 4 different car horns. I don't think the recession is quite over yet.