I know what is going to bring our country to its knees. It’s not gun violence or ISIS or terrorists. It’s traffic. Crawling, snarling, cursing, white-knuckle, wheel-clenching, blood-pounding, traffic.
I had to come to Austin last month to present a Texas Talks Webinar for the Texas State Historical Association. I had given myself what I thought was plenty of time – three hours – to get from Huntsville to the offices of TSHA on the west side of Austin. That would have been plenty, ten, or even five years ago. But not now.
I reached the intersection of I-35 and 290, a mere five miles from my goal. Dumb country mouse, I had forgotten that 4 to 6 p.m. is rush hour traffic on one of the busiest highways in the country. For the next HOUR AND A HALF I came to an almost dead stand-still.
I sat in stop-and-go traffic until I was close to screaming in frustration. I was supposed to go on air at 6 p.m. By the time I finally arrived, with fifteen minutes to spare, both the tech crew and I were shaking, sweating, and racing to make deadline. We made it, just barely.
Yesterday, to do this month’s Webinar, I left Huntsville with five hours to spare—and avoided the evening traffic grid-lock. There was still traffic, but it only took me an hour to go across town to the TSHA offices.
I’ve been in Houston traffic, with the same results, as well as San Antonio, Dallas, D.C., and, worst of all, Mexico City. There the cab drivers, truckers, cyclists, and gun-toting limo drivers make driving a blood-sport, more dangerous by far than bull-fighting. Getting across Mexico City in rush-hour traffic requires nerves of steel, a loud horn, and the lungs of a stevedore to curse the cars ahead, behind and around you, and at least a three-hour head start.
After we got done with the Webinar, which only ran into a ten-minute technological glitch (which is probably the other thing that is going to bring us to our knees), my buddy Steve, the Education Director invited me out to supper at the Hula Hut, just down the road. Kind, but not wise.
Seven p.m. in Austin is prime time for dinner out. Even on a week-night, it’s not unusual to wait for a table for half and hour. This is Austin, home of the University of Texas and it looked like every student in the school, all 50,000 of them, was out enjoying the bright lights. We had competition.
Almost as bad as the traffic, is finding a parking spot. We drove down to the brilliantly lit restaurant area on Lake Austin. Very popular, if the cars were any indication. We began our search. Of course, they do offer valet parking for the desperate—and the very wealthy.
The parking area in front of the restaurant was crawling with predatory cars, searching for parking spots. Nothing. Across the street, in the darkened, but vast parking area, up and down the rows, dodging other cruising cars, chock-a-block solid, not a space available. Not a square inch to park on the street. At last, in a dimly-lit, distant, dirt lot that might have been designated for parking, (whether it was or not didn’t matter, desperate drivers had made it into a parking space), we finally just backed in and left the truck.
The food at the Hula Hut was interesting and the conversation entertaining. An hour later, we emerged to find that the parking gods had not towed the truck. We were in luck. Steve had only gotten a warning ticket.
Huntsville traffic, with its ten cars at the intersection, looked really good. This country mouse wants to go home!