Gridlock. It used to be enjoyed only by those of us in cities big enough to officially have way too many cars. In NYC, the phenomenon occurs when an intersection becomes clogged with vehicles, those both already in the flow of traffic and those who want to merge with the flow, but are stymied by a similar glut of frustrated motorists clogging the next intersection.
The most frustrating thing about gridlock is that it can be prevented. We have a law in New York City referred to by the locals as “Don’t Block The Box”. There is a crosshatch of painted lines in the middle of major intersections. If your tires are touching one of them when the light turns red, you are officially blocking the box and, theoretically at least, subject to a fine of up to 350 of your hard-earned ducats.
All you have to do to avoid blocking the box – and in turn, gridlock itself – is not be the jerk who crams himself into the intersection just as the light turns red again, this in an effort to block merging traffic and secure a coveted spot at the back of the next big lineup of immobile and furious prisoners.
The theory here is that, if everyone agrees to wait until the light is green AND there is a space on the next block for your car, eventually the situation will right itself and an equal number of cars from each direction will enter the flow of traffic, like a zipper closing as the teeth from the left and right take turns joining together. (You’ll no doubt notice having never seen a zipper that occasionally decides to use two teeth from the left before one from the right.)
A new definition of gridlock.
It’s been a long time since I felt the satisfying comfort of a phrase whose meaning was wonderfully unambiguous. I was holding on to the word gridlock as a solely automotive term right up until the two primary factions of our dislocated government simply forgot how to deal with each other with any sort of aplomb, gravitas or maturity.
I don’t remember when it happened. But I do remember a wonderful Ken Burns documentary called The Congress. My on-again-off-again best friend, Netflix, delivered The Congress to me one evening when I was in the mood for a history lesson decidedly less pedantic than the type force fed to me through my old, but most surely not missed, high school feeding tube.
The documentary is something like 90 minutes long and I highly recommend it. But, for those of you with too much to do to and very little time in which to do it, allow me to save you 89 minutes and give you Ken’s primary and well constructed thesis. Our republic today enjoys its stance on the shoulders of giants because said giants built the legislative branch of our goverment around one word:
When Mr. Burns first lent me this tidbit of wisdom, I was unwilling to accept it. I went so far as to adopt a stance of righteous indignation right there on my couch. How dare our representative forefathers trade in the strength of their convictions for a non-offensive ride on It’s A Small World when they should be forcing a Space Mountain-sized dose of “it’s my way or the highway” down the throats of their enemies!
Ah, but therein lies the rub. The Republicans, the narrator intoned, were not the enemies of the Democrats or vice versa. They were simply men of an alternate mindset, one no less cogent or reasonable than that of their counterparts. Just different. And so, in the spirit of setting the cogs of modern governance in motion, the two sides would come together, clash to the point of outdoor-voices and wild gesticulations, and end up with a way forward that saw each party both giving and receiving pieces of its closest held convictions for the betterment of those Americans not elected to be present during these proceedings.
Where did all the adults go?
For those of you reading this blog post in the year 3015 after just freeing my antique laptop from the time capsule your robot unearthed on the land your family claimed via a post-apocalyptic Manifest Destiny kind of thing that will likely be the subject of a documentary published by a modern day Ken Burns somewhere around the year 3098, I’ll remind you that way back on August 2, 2011 the American government finally reached a level of self-delusion so insidous that it was compelled to join six enemies from each party in a thinly veiled PR campaign ostensibly to reduce government spending by decree of – wait for it – compromise!
Hopefully with the benefit of hindsight, you’ll be able to see without too much effort, how monumentally stupid this waste of time really was. Your robotic history tutor will no doubt explain to you, in a digitized approximation of Edna Krabappel‘s voice, that the political environment of 2011 was so clogged with vitriol and holier-than-thou that there was clearly no way in hell that Patty (co-chair), Max, John, Xavier, Jim, Chris, Jon, Rob, Pat, Jeb (co-chair), Fred and Dave would ever in a million years succeed in finding common ground on which processed lunch meat should be on their complimentary congressional deli tray, let alone how to alleviate our budget of 1.2 trillion dollars worth of national debt.
The law of unintended consequences.
I could absolutely give a crap about basketball. It’s just not my thing. But I found a piece on NPR’s Marketplace about another example of 2011 gridlock particularly interesting as it caressed my tired ears during my gridlocked drive home to lower Manhattan the other day.
It turns out that the NBA has something in common with our legislative branch other than over-inflated monetary rewards for failure. The argument they’re having about how over-inflated these rewards should be has become so combative that all proceedings have ground to a halt and nothing is getting done at all. Sound familiar?
My theory, the one that rouses me from slumber, covered in a cold, wet film of condensation in the middle of the night, is that a river of bile is flowing down from the House and Senate like so much waste from a ruptured water filtration conduit, and infecting the subconscious of every American, turning the color of our collective zeitgeist to a scrofulous and unsettling brown.
As I said, I’m not really going to shed a tear for Kobe Bryant the day he realizes that, personal finances being what they are, he should really put the Ferrari on Craigslist before sliding his American Express Black card through the Lamborghini dealership’s cash register.
But that NPR piece did mention a small army of local business owners, concession stand workers and whatever the basketball equivalent to Zamboni machine operators is who are now finding themselves financially t-boned because Kobe and his boss can’t agree on the color of the aforementioned Lamborghini. In other words, the many get screwed because the few are acting like children.
Please, someone take the high road.
I don’t know when or if this will change. My hope is that we have not fallen so far as to beset every future generation with less and less governmental efficacy as days go by, culminating in the systemic breakdown of the republic I personally hold dear.
I’m hoping and praying for a savior from either side of the isle who will put aside his or her ingrained pugilism, hit the breaks when the light turns red and stand up as a shining example of modern governance to declare to the world in no uncertain terms, “No! I will not block the box!”