Traffic Blues

There are some good things in living in a college town/metro area, and some bad. When I was younger, around the time I was learning to drive, my birthplace boasted a population of somewhere around 25-30,000 residents, not counting the cows and chickens that surrounded us in what was then a mostly agricultural region. Summer breaks for the college meant that there were a couple of weeks in the summer when the streets were so empty that you could practically walk down the middle of all but the busiest and not have to worry about getting hit. It was always a relief, because most of the kids coming up for college hadn't been driving more than a year or two, and were still in that awkward, 'I can drive anywhere and anyhow I want, 'cause Mom and Dad aren't here' phase. It was a great time to learn to drive, because you weren't having to contend with other, relatively new drivers.

The population has jumped since then by 40,000 or more residents, just for my hometown. I'm not sure of the numbers for the rest of the area, but some magazine named us one of the top ten places for something or other, and people started coming. Summer breaks no longer mean quiet streets. My son learned to drive last year, and drove himself to work over the summer. He tells me, "Those kids drive like maniacs," even though he himself is younger than most of them. Winters, now and in the past, tend to be adventures in idiocy. Many of the kids come from places where it doesn't snow. You can almost guarantee that you will see cars off in ditches all over town the first time or two the roads get slick. They find out that four-wheel-drive doesn't mean you don't slide when the roads are icy.

Sure, there are some things that are nice about the growth. We've got new restaurants and stores that we used to have to drive to Tulsa or Joplin to visit. And the small-town, roll up the carpets and lock up at 5:00 mentality has long since vanished. It's nice to be able to pop out to the store and pick up toilet paper or other essentials at 9pm.

The metro area includes three cities and a number of surrounding small towns. The roads were not designed for the volume of traffic that we get. There are often lines at the off ramps on the interstate, which has become the main traffic artery for folks trying to avoid the clogged city streets. These days, neither is a faster way of getting there than the other. On game days at the local college, the best time to try to get out and do things around town is during the game, when everyone else is at the stadium. Careful timing is essential. My husband and I misjudged the end time of the game one day not long ago. It took us nearly an hour to reach our restaurant of choice, when it normally takes around 15 minutes.

This past half-week, the nearest big city hosted Bikes, Blues, and BBQ, one of the fastest-growing, family-friendly biker rallies in the country. They were expecting an attendance of around 300,000 people. There was a ton of traffic, but I honestly think it moved more smoothly than game-day traffic. In spite of their reputation, bikers on the whole seem to be pretty polite drivers. If only we could teach the fans of the college football team to be so polite.


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