Traffic Jam

They say it is the worst traffic on the East Coast. You would think I would be used to it by now.

They say it is the worst traffic on the East Coast. You would think I would be used to it by now.

Shortly after my son was born, I had to do something about my hair. Not only had I developed that I-just-had-a-baby-frumpiness that comes caring for a baby night and day, but my class reunion was only a week away. No way was I going to my class reunion looking awful.

I made an appointment with a salon about 45 minutes from my house. Why go such a distance? Well, this salon hosted my club’s annual Pamper Me event and we were always encouraging members to use their services in appreciation. I was planning to get my hair colored and cut and why not spring for a manicure and pedicure, too?

So, I hired a sitter and headed out the door, only to get caught in the traffic jam from Hell on I-50. Not only was it a Friday in June with typically heavy traffic heading over the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore, but it was also the same day as the Naval Academy graduation ceremony AND there was an accident!

I called the salon and reported that I was stuck in traffic and would be late. The receptionist said, “Okay, we will see you when you get here. Thank you for calling.”

When I finally arrived at my destination 30 minutes late for my appointment, that same receptionist said, “I’m sorry. We gave your slot to someone else because you weren’t here on time. I can fit you in tomorrow at noon. You can just pop in then.” She was already writing my name in her appointment book. She was young, and while I certainly didn’t know the circumstances that existed in her life, the fact that she thought I could just casually “pop in” told me she probably didn’t have small children at home. She probably didn’t have to pump breast-milk or line up a sitter at $10 per hour just to get her hair cut.

“Oh, no! I cannot just ‘pop in’ tomorrow!”

“I can give you this same appointment time in two weeks, if that works better for you?”

“No, that does not ‘work better’ for me. If you can’t fit me in now, I’m leaving and I’m not coming back.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry. You are late. We couldn’t hold your appointment open any longer.”

“I WAS IN TRAFFIC! I CALLED YOU AND YOU SAID, ‘WE WILL SEE YOU WHEN YOU GET HERE.’”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that we can’t hold an appointment for more than 10 minutes when we have walk-in customers waiting.”

“YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID THAT WHEN I CALLED!”

“It’s on our website.”

I left in a huff determined to never return to that salon ever again, and to this day, I haven’t.

A few days later, I went to my class reunion where everyone I encountered said, “You just had a baby? You look great!” and not the more truthful, “You just had a baby? You look great for 43-year-old woman with a blobby post-partum body and a desperate need for a haircut and some highlights!”

Yes, this all happened more than 3 years ago, and so, why am I telling you about it now? There should be a statute of limitations on whining about how horrifically bad I looked after having a baby, right?

I am telling you this because I was caught in traffic just yesterday—after waiting for my mother-in-law’s care-giver to arrive, after dropping my daughter at school, and after taking my son to the sitter. Yes, I was out running errands, but I was ALONE, and I had decided that if I could get the errands done quickly, I would treat myself to lunch from Chipotle’s and then browse the aisles of the library. ‘Cuz that’s the kind of wild gal I am these days! I’m sure that to some folks this sounds like no big deal, but considering how little child-free, granny-free time I have, to eat a burrito while sitting in my car listening to NPR is heavenly. To just wonder up and down aisles of books staring at titles with no one calling my name is blissful.

But because I was in traffic, it wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I was going to have to drop clothes at the dry cleaners and then pick up my mother-in-law’s prescriptions and race home. No Tex-Mex lunch, no library books. Can you understand why this would be disappointing for me? Just a little? And yeah, I know it’s a First World Problem. I wasn’t starving to death or holding a dying child. No one was chasing me. I wasn’t going to get home to find that my house had been burnt to the ground by angry militants. I was just mildly disappointed that I wasn’t going to just get to do my own thing for an hour or so.

So, I sat in traffic thinking about that incident in which I missed my hair appointment–mostly how angry I was at the salon chicky—not for just giving my appointment away after I had called to say I would be late, but at her assumption that I could just ‘pop in’ the following day. With each adult responsibility we take on—employment, marriage, home-ownership, pet-ownership, children, elder-care—the less spontaneity we have. It becomes increasingly difficult to ‘pop in’ anywhere. That’s just a simple fact of life–kind of like understanding that you may spend the better part of your day sitting in traffic. It happens.

I also realized that this time around, I was mildly disappointed that my time was being eaten away by being stuck in traffic. I wasn’t genuinely angry about it, and perhaps this represents a turning point for me and my own maturity. I used to get really angry when I felt my time was being wasted–especially when I have so little time to myself. So what if I’m not getting to do what I want to do? I don’t know when I will be truly alone again? My time is being eaten away by traffic? When we consider the cost of childcare and granny-care, this traffic jam is costing me how much per hour? Eh. I shrug.

Maybe a little traffic jam is a good thing. If nothing else, it’s that opportunity to contemplate life and remember that we can’t always get what we want, but if we try some times, we just might find, we get what we need.

(Yes, as a matter of fact, I was listening to classic rock while sitting in traffic. How did you guess that?)

 

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