Yesterday we had a big snowstorm here in Cleveland. My drive home from work â€“ normally about half an hour — took five hours.
Thatâ€™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 Iâ€™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 Iâ€™d momentarily feel resentful (darn those lane-changers!) until Iâ€™d begin to get attached to the new guyâ€™s tail lights.
I listened to a lot of NPR. I heard plenty about Obamaâ€™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 Lennonâ€™s last interview (yesterday being the 30th anniversary of his death) â€“ an enjoyable but disconcerting experience, because JohnÂ sounded so voluble and garrulous, almost goofy.
I even read a short story as I sat unmoving, tired of the radio, â€œBarcelona, 1975″ from Colm Toibinâ€™s new collection The Empty Family, which Iâ€™m reviewing. It was pretty much gay soft porn, which I didnâ€™t like so much as the other stories in the book, but it kept my mind off my gas gauge creepingÂ toward â€œempty.â€
Mainly what I realize from this experience is that it doesnâ€™t really interest most people. Most people (me included, obviously) are interested in talking about their own experiences. Theyâ€™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-workerâ€™s three-hour commute. Yes, I wanted to say. But five hours. Do you hear? Five hours. Theyâ€™d responding by talking about the snowplows and the Mayor and the police and theÂ sprinkling of snow on the West Side.
One acquaintance explained that IÂ hadn’t neededÂ 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 possibleÂ road rage of drivers around me if I didnâ€™t start up my car quickly enough, she interrupted me. All about how starting the car doesnâ€™t use as much gas as you think, the experts say so, and so on.
Even my family was surprisingly blasÃ©.Â Iâ€™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 wardrobeÂ in theÂ Professor’s houseÂ 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 Iâ€™d been to the grocery store. He was mildly disappointed that I hadn’t brought home something hot to eat.