Yesterday we had a big snowstorm here in Cleveland. My drive home from work – normally about half an hour — took five hours.
That’s right. Five hours. 2:30 to 7:30. Broad daylight to darkness. Along about the three-hour mark, I was thinking I could have driven to Canton, our hometown, and back again. At five hours, I realized I could have driven to Cincinnati. My friend Bob points out that I could have visited him in Rochester.
I was stuck on Chester Avenue for most of this time, watching traffic lights ahead of me change from red to green, back and forth many times, while cars were gridlocked in the intersection. The occasional snow squall would descend, so obscuring my vision that I’d lose track of where I was, just creeping along behind the dim tail lights ahead of me.
In these situations, you get fond of that Honda or SUV in front of you. An interloper would occasionally pull in ahead, and I’d momentarily feel resentful (darn those lane-changers!) until I’d begin to get attached to the new guy’s tail lights.
I listened to a lot of NPR. I heard plenty about Obama’s compromise with the Republicans regarding tax cuts and how mad his party is with him. I heard some horrible stories that I switched off. I listened to almost all of John Lennon’s last interview (yesterday being the 30th anniversary of his death) – an enjoyable but disconcerting experience, because John sounded so voluble and garrulous, almost goofy.
I even read a short story as I sat unmoving, tired of the radio, “Barcelona, 1975″ from Colm Toibin’s new collection The Empty Family, which I’m reviewing. It was pretty much gay soft porn, which I didn’t like so much as the other stories in the book, but it kept my mind off my gas gauge creeping toward “empty.”
Mainly what I realize from this experience is that it doesn’t really interest most people. Most people (me included, obviously) are interested in talking about their own experiences. They’re most interested, that is, in talking, not listening.
When I told people today about my five hours in the car, I heard about their daughter’s long two-hour commute or their co-worker’s three-hour commute. Yes, I wanted to say. But five hours. Do you hear? Five hours. They’d responding by talking about the snowplows and the Mayor and the police and the sprinkling of snow on the West Side.
One acquaintance explained that I hadn’t needed to worry about running out of gas because I could have just kept shutting off my car and starting it again. The experts say this is how to do it! You can save gas that way! When I cited my nervousness about the possible road rage of drivers around me if I didn’t start up my car quickly enough, she interrupted me. All about how starting the car doesn’t use as much gas as you think, the experts say so, and so on.
Even my family was surprisingly blasé. I’d imagined as the hours ticked by my husband and son would be worried about me. But my arrival home was like Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy returning to the wardrobe in the Professor’s house after spending years in Narnia: time works differently there. When I got home, my husband had gone off to work and my son was blithely watching TV, hoping I’d been to the grocery store. He was mildly disappointed that I hadn’t brought home something hot to eat.