October 04, 2006

Reporter's Notebook

Two lanes should be back in place on County Road 39 by the time this paper hits the streets, if the gods have smiled and the helicopters buzzing above have ascertained that yes, there really is traffic. Nonetheless, the feelings rage provoked by the debacle will take a while to dissipate.

Nine a.m., the Monday after the CR 39 traffic calming measures have been, for no good reason, stopped. Origin: Hampton Bays. Destination: East Hampton. Distance: 22 miles.

I leave my house, and drive one mile to the center of Hampton Bays, listening to U2 sing "Beautiful Day." The top is down on my Jeep, the smell of the burning oil from the engine is washing over me. I smile, happy to enjoy the last rays of the summer sun.

9:02: The middle-aged group of power walkers is moving at twice the speed of anyone on Montauk Hwy. I mutter something unprintable and snarl at U2's optimism. I decide to go to the beach instead of sitting in traffic. I walk along the shore and wonder what kind of jobs the 30 or so surfers in the water have that allow them to be surfing at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday, and, more importantly, how I can get such a job. At no point do I consider the fact I'm supposed to be at work.

9:40: I leave the beach, having re-centered my karma. I am a new person. The traffic will not get to me.

9:42: The traffic on the back roads is at a dead stop, two miles from the highway. A DEAD STOP. I start shrieking and pounding on the steering wheel. In a Jeep with no top, this is not a private moment of rage. The woman in the car behind me puts a little more distance between her car and mine. I pull a screaming U-turn — me screaming, not the tires, the Jeep will fall apart if I make any sudden movements — and head west towards Montauk Hwy. I go the wrong way down a one-way road. I park on the highway, along with the other 1000 people trying to get to work.

9:46: I have moved 50 feet. I call the supervisor's office, determined to give them a piece of my mind. I mentally compose a scathing critique of the poor quality of their governance, sprinkled with a few well-placed profanities, designed to offer a bit of shock value and better convey the depth of my rage.

9:47: The supervisor's secretary sounds tired. My Catholic-school politeness kicks in; the sisters would be horrified at my rudeness if I yelled at the secretary. "I'm very sorry to bother you," I say, "but I'd like to register a complaint about the terrible traffic." I sound positively British.

9:48: I've moved another five feet. The secretary passes the buck: "You should call the County Executive's office," she says. I take down his number and quietly congratulate myself on my own, albeit tame, version, of kicking asses and taking names.

9:49: Never having spoken to the supervisor, I thank the secretary profusely for her time and wish her a good day. As soon as I hang up I proceed to curse out the entire town government. "They should impeach the bastards," I scream. A logical voice in my head tells me impeaching is probably reserved for high-ranking federal officials. I slam my hand against the steering wheel in an effort to shut that voice up and recoil in pain. I can see a bruise developing on my hand.

9:53: Thirty-seven feet further on, a cyclist passes me, moving at a rapid 12 mph clip. I consider offering to trade my Jeep for his bike, but realize his bike is probably worth considerably more and the brakes on the bike probably work. I call the County Exec's office, determined to take the hard line.

9:56: The County Exec's secretary assures me that they are planning meetings to discuss what to do about the traffic. A feeling of peace washes over me. They are planning meetings — I will not be sitting in traffic long. I'll make it to work soon — just in time for my editor to fire me for being three hours late.

9:57 I ponder the age-old question: Why is it that politicians never answer their own phones? I want to yell at them, not their secretaries. What's more, I will show them the utmost respect by referring to them by their correct titles: "Master of a Domain Encompassing Seven People, Three Chickens and A One Legged Dog" and "Enlightened One."

10:03: Seventy-nine feet further on, I consider abandoning my car. I'll walk away from it all, move to Argentina, sell the Jeep for parts. "No one will buy the Jeep for parts," the logical voice says. I content myself by thinking of headlines I would use to describe the town and county officials handling of the traffic situation if I were editor-in-chief. My favorite is terribly elegant: "Fire The Bastards. Fire Them All." But then I realize I'm the paper's chief obituary writer. The heady sense of power dissipates.

10:08: Three hundred ninety-six feet down, only 123,200 feet to go.

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