Driving to Work

Yea though I drive through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…

In many developed countries the morning commute to work is a reasonably comfortable and event-free experience. Even when the traffic is heavy, the roads are good and people go about their business in an orderly fashion. But this is Jamaica... and my drive to work is a little different.

I live on a quiet avenue which leads onto a main road which, in turn, leads into the heart of the city. Well, my avenue was quiet until, a few years ago, when a few people decided it was a shortcut. Pretty soon, large numbers of people decided my avenue was a shortcut and now, when I attempt to drive out of my driveway on a weekday morning, the road is lined bumper to bumper with people using what’s now become a “long-cut”. As a result, I’m forced to wait at the edge of my driveway, gate open, until someone is kind enough to let me out onto “my” road so that I can creep, inch by painful inch, down to the main road.

As I get closer to the main road I blow my horn to get the attention of the lady selling newspapers on the corner. As I drive up, I quickly give her some money and she gives me a paper.  I slow down just long enough to grab the paper, but not a moment longer. I know from experience that despite the fact that we’ve all been creeping slowly along for the last 15 minutes, should I dare come to a full stop, even for a second, the person behind me will immediately blow their horn long and loudly like I’ve been sitting there blocking traffic all morning.

I turn onto the main road where the traffic speeds up slightly but I immediately slam hard on my brakes as a chubby little schoolboy runs, or rather waddles, across the road. I shoot Fatta a dirty look and quickly move off again.  He, in turn, appears slightly startled by the sound of my squealing tyres and turns to glare at me and show me his middle finger. I make a mental note to run him over next time I see him.

I quickly drive on but slow down again as I notice two policemen conducting spot-checks further down the road. I feel the vein in the side of my forehead start to throb.  “Why di rass you gonna run a spot check when people late for work fada?” I ask myself. I sigh, slow down, sit up in my seat, and straighten my tie. I desperately hope that the serious look I’ve just put on my face says “I’m a respectable law abiding citizen whose registration and fitness are up to date, and who you do NOT need to pull over… even though his insurance expired three weeks ago”.

I breathe a sigh of relief and speed up as the officers ignore me as I drive past.  They are too busy persecuting another hapless motorist for a minor infraction to notice me. That motorist is no doubt wondering why they are hassling him when instead they could be pursuing thieves, murderers and drug kingpins with outstanding extradition orders against them. I snicker as I pass this unfortunate driver and see the agonised look on his face as the officer writes him a ticket.

I tune my radio to the Breakfast Club and listen to the talking heads discuss the latest political scandal/debacle/controversy/imbroglio in Jamaica as I drive. I’m just beginning to understand why the Minister’s actions were merely “imprudent” as opposed to criminal and why his comments were “misstatements” and not barefaced lies, when suddenly my attention is dragged away from the radio by the sound of a horn blowing loudly somewhere over my right shoulder. I swerve frantically to the left as I realise that bearing down on me at top speed is an overloaded taxicab that has pulled out of the traffic and is now overtaking an entire line of cars as it races down the road. The cab, a rickety white deportee station wagon, with tinted windows and bald tyres leans awkwardly to the left as it weaves crazily from side to side to avoid vehicles coming from the other direction. Loud music blasts from its interior and an overweight gentleman with braids, a mesh merino and dark glasses hunches over the steering wheel with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hanging carelessly out the widow. A faded yellow sticker on his dented bumper says “Outlaw”.

My wife, who is sitting in the seat beside me, pulls herself away from her compact mirror where she’s busily applying her eye shadow just long enough to murmur “Oh dear. These taximen are so reckless”.  My wife lives by the motto “Go placidly amidst the noise and haste”. I swallow the curse words I am about to utter lest we get into another argument about my “road rage”.

The outlaw taxi leaves a trail of cursing drivers (me included), dark smoke and the smell of burning brakes in its wake. I have a brief daydream in which I race after the vehicle and force it to stop by bringing my car to a screeching halt in front of it. I then leap from my vehicle, pull the driver from his seat and chop him to death with the half-a-lass I keep under my seat. Having done that I use his freshly-spilled blood to daub the words “Jackass” on the side of his white Toyota Corolla. I am confident that no court in the land will convict me once they know the extreme provocation to which I was subjected. This morning, however, I find I am able to resist the temptation to commit murder.

A little further up the road I find the same cab now stopped in the middle of the road letting off passengers.  It is a full 5 feet away from the side of the road.  As I inch my way around the car, it suddenly races off again leaving me stranded in the middle of the road.  I remind myself to sharpen my half-a-lass tonight.

I find I am running a little bit late so I decide to take my own secret short-cut to get around the worst traffic.  I turn off the main road and onto a narrow side road which leads me down into a gully. I slow down as I drive into the gully and manoeuvre cautiously around crater-sized potholes, abandoned cars and a dead dog. I drive out of the gully and into a ghetto neighbourhood and speed up.  The roads are not good but the neighbourhood is a dangerous one, so I don’t want to tarry. I’m driving around a pothole when I come face to face, in the middle of the road, with another motorist who is also picking his way around the potholes.  We both stop. Neither of us moves. To let him by I would have to drive into a deep pothole, risking damage to my tyres and shock absorbers, and I refuse to do that. He apparently feels the same way. He blows his horn. I blow mine.  He glares at me.  I glare at him. He rolls down his window and threatens shoot me to death and leave my rotting carcass in a cane field for vultures to fight over. I pull over and let him pass.

My male ego severely wounded I drive on, and a few minutes later I am able to drop my wife at her office.  She kisses me on the cheek, looks me directly in the eye and says “Get to work safely honey”.  This is our code for “Please don’t kill anybody because they bad-drive you. This family needs your paycheque”.

The next bit of my journey is usually less traumatic as I’ve now entered the commercial centre of the city where the roads are smoother and the traffic, though heavy, is more orderly. I allow my mind to wander as I listen to ZJ Bambino on Zip FM. I pull up to an intersection where I usually turn right onto the road leading to my office. The stoplight facing me is red and the other line of traffic moves slowly across the intersection. The persons in that line of traffic continue driving through the intersection even though their stoplight is now turning red.  As a result, when my light turns green there are several cars blocking the intersection.  I resist the temptation to drive into the intersection and further block the road.  The driver behind me is less thoughtful about the matter and starts blowing his horn loudly.  I ignore him for a while, hoping the traffic will move so I can drive out. It doesn’t. He blows even harder and rolls down his window to curse me loudly. He tells me in detail various unpleasant things I should do to myself. Raging (and slightly intimidated) I finally drive out into the intersection hoping that the traffic will start moving so I wont block the intersection when the light changes again. No luck. The light turns red and I’m stuck in the middle of the road blocking the traffic coming from the other direction. Those drivers now blow their horns, curse me and describe various unpleasant things I should do to myself. I am mortified and time seems to slow to a crawl till eventually the traffic starts moving again and I am able to drive on. I breathe a deep sigh of relief. My relief doesn’t last long, however, as a policeman pulls me over and writes me a ticket for blocking the road.  The car behind me, which was also blocking the road, has somehow disappeared.  The policeman is not moved by my dramatic description of the conundrum with which I was faced earlier (i.e. a blocked road in front of me and a homicidal, horn-blowing maniac behind me).

My nerves, ego and peace of mind having been shattered I finally arrive at work and park in the parking lot. Thankfully, I have a full eight hours ahead of me before I have to make the same trip… all over again.