Taking on the traffic calamity

Savannah Morning News column

Sunday, May 18, 2015

For people who live in Key West it is not uncommon to hear someone complain about needing to “get off the rock.” It might be to pick up a friend at the Miami International Airport, go to a doctor, visit the immigration office, catch a concert. While there is nothing shabby about the scenery outside your car – for much of the trip on U.S. 1 to Miami you are sandwiched between dense mangroves and stretches of crystal clear water of the Gulf of Mexico or the Straits of Florida – much of the 170 miles or nearly four-hour trip is two lane, which can be problematic, especially when you are stuck behind a school bus, a car hauling a boat or a cement truck you can’t see around.

You’re a bit isolated in Key West, culturally and physically. But life in the southernmost part of the U.S.A. is very pleasant, so to think twice before venturing north into the real world is not so horrible.

The same thing is apt to happen if you live in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. The roads are twisty-turny and serpentine. Traffic can back up. To pass or not to pass; that becomes the question. You don’t venture out as often as you might want to but life is good in the hills.

I’ve never lived in Atlanta but I imagine if I did I’d live and play and work within the perimeter. If friends wanted to get together they’d have to visit me.

For a long time traffic was the least of our problems in Savannah. Going to the airport? A breeze, even on a Friday afternoon. Traffic jams, as such, were few. Nothing to complain about. Yes Abercorn could be annoying, but like heading up to Miami you just didn’t go south. I have friends who live in the historic district for whom going “south of DeRenne” is akin to “getting off the rock.” You grit your teeth, turn on the radio and go where you need to. Same thing with traveling Waters Avenue. This is a street people love to complain about, even though it only measures six miles and except for an hour in the afternoon it really does move along.

I won’t even mention the occasionally irritating activity of driving downtown around the squares though now I’ve come to think of them as giant roundabouts. But guess what? They work. They slow traffic. Drivers are even getting in the habit of stopping to let people cross, which is what they are supposed to do,

So often, complaints about traffic in Savannah don’t hold water.

Still, that didn’t stop some of us (like me) from complaining about the Truman Parkway. Truth be told, I’ve started to use the Truman – to get to Armstrong, to the southside, to Burnside. It’s handy. Traffic moves quickly. I get to see beautiful patches of the marsh, even if it pains me to think of all that construction on the rivers and how damaging that must be for the environment.

But while we were spending all that money on the Truman, half the town – or so it seems (I tend to exaggerate) – was moving west to Bryan county, Effingham county, Liberty county. Cheaper housing. Safer neighborhoods. Better schools. Taxes to one entity – a county – instead of a county (Chatham) and a city (Savannah).

During that great migration – which continues – where were the traffic experts? All working on the Truman?

Has anyone been on Highway 80 lately? Highway 21? The south end of Abercorn? Or I-16 near those three counties?

It’s a mess. Unless you are an Atlanta transplant and you were nostalgic for traffic. Unless you like standing still. Unless you like being hectored by trucks tormenting you and on your tail.. Compared to this, traffic on the Truman is a breeze.

I can’t think of anything good to say about the situation except it’s introducing us to Highway 80, the new Highway 17 (before it got four-laned and built up with massive housing developments, shopping malls and sprawling schools). We’re seeing barbecue places we didn’t know existed. A Buddhist temple. Endless churches all promising everlasting life. Randy Wood Guitars (so that’s where it is). The cool looking Savannah Hydroponics and Organics business, which sits next to a very sprawling state Farmers Market with all those open air sheds, an empty parking lot and no farmers. What do you want to bet that turns into an outlet mall.

Maybe it’s time for another study.

Or light rail. Nah. Too logical.

Tips for a life

Savannah Morning News column

May 10, 2015

Don’t keep chocolate in the house. If you do, hide it; if you’re lucky, you’ll forget where you hid it.

Don’t keep a scale, either. The news will never be good.

Make your peace with photographs of yourself. You will never like the ones other people like (and send you) because, well, you don’t think they look like you (or how you think you should look).

Before you go out check your shirt for toothpaste dribblings.

When someone is telling a story, just listen. Try not to do the math. It’s not important they were in fourth grade when Kennedy was killed and all along, without thinking about it, you figured you were kind of the same age. Try to refrain from saying, “I have t-shirts older than you,” a line I stole from the late Doug Wyatt, a wag and a fine writer from the Savannah Morning News.

As I complete another trip around the sun and add another year to my age these are a few of the things I’ve learned. Learn the proper way to floss. Apparently, two years into my seventh decade, I have been doing it wrong all this time. How can this be? Go back and forth, side to side. Learn the proper way to use your electric toothbrush. Easy, not too much pressure, don’t forget the gums and the tongue.

Learn how to divert a conversation. Rehearse in your mind a retort to what’s being said. If there are blanks in the noun area, turn the dialogue around and head quick as a bunny for another subject where you’re on solid ground.

When a three-year-old says, “Let’s run,” go with it. Even if you’re on the sidewalk. Even if the sidewalk is uneven and all you can picture is both of you tumbling over and ending up with a bloody nose. Mostly likely it won’t happen.

Try not to point out how much shorter you are even though most of the world seems to tower over you. It’s easier to squeeze through crowds that way.

Steel yourself before going into a doctor’s office that feels more like the office of a cable company or an insurance company or a giant corporation. Put away your checkbook. You can’t pay until they “negotiate.” Don’t expect the doctor to talk to you for long, to ask if you’re eating right and getting exercise, or to say, “You look pretty good!” Get a grip on those expectations. Be happy you can leave without hearing arterial stent or beta blocker or balloon angioplasty. I know they save lives, but still.

When you go to the ballpark don’t give the man who is checking your bag for water bottles (or worse) any grief. He’s only doing his job. “There might be vodka in there or gin,” he says. Horrors. Don’t start bitching and moaning to him about the team leaving Savannah when he tells you there aren’t enough workout facilities for the ballplayers.

Don’t go too far adrift with this stranger checking your bag. It’s not his fault that only boys get to play football in the park, that police departments used to sponsor sports leagues, that major league baseball is for the rich. Just because you’re thinking these things doesn’t mean you have to announce them.

Look for that silver lining. Like the woman who was behind you in line to buy tickets to see the Sand Gnats who offered you her Kroger card so you could get in for a dollar. Or the woman in the expensive seats behind home plate who offered you a seat in the front row. Or the $9 you and a friend spent at the game, $2 for both of you to get in, $1 for some water, $4 for two hotdogs. Cherish those numbers. They are rare.

Be grateful you rode your bike to the game and you got to see the full moon on your ride home and you made it home without running into any potholes, unfinished city work, or those noxious sweet gum balls, just waiting to trip up your tires.

Choose anything over the screen. A downtown nighttime Matt Hebermehl installation? Go!

Listen to the birds and not the news. It is not new, all these deaths and shootings and war dead. For better but most likely for worst they’ve always been around. It’s just that now we have more people reporting on them. (Can you say all the time?)

Finally, a tip from Sophia Loren, that aging beauty.

“Never groan when you get up or sit down on the couch,” she says.