Clogged Arteries
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I've had a lot of time to think about this. Every weekday for the past couple of years I've driven my car, which is capable of going from zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds, into the city, a distance of about 12 miles. On a good morning it takes me about an hour. Recently an hour and a half is not uncommon, and the other morning, when the United Nations General Assembly meeting was screwing up the entire East Side for I'm sure very good reasons, it cost me two hours to get to the office. When I arrived, it took me the rest of the morning to stifle the urge to fire somebody's ass.

Something's up. There was always traffic. But now? Like I said. It's over the top and getting worse by the hour. One day I think it's possible that we'll enter into a situation whose unmoving parts are so recalcitrant that in the end nothing but blowtorches and earthmoving vehicles will take it apart. Food will have to be air-lifted in to gridlock victims.

My point is, this isn't just an accumulation of people going to work. Nor, as I read in the Wall Street Journal the other day, is it a random dispersion of chaotic forces bumping together like gas bubbles in a controlled environment. That's what They want you to think.

Don't ask me who They are. You know. And if you don't, I can't tell you. They aren't you and me, that's for sure. Because They ... well, They know what's going on ... and we? We don't.

Certain things are clear. First of all, They want the traffic to be moving just this way. That is, not at all. They could improve things immediately if They wanted to. They just don't want to. They want us sitting still where They can keep an eye on us as we inch toward our appointments, that's what I think.

Look at the construction issue. On my way to work, I pass no fewer than three zones where something absolutely inexplicable is happening. It's not construction per se. It is, I think, the illusion of construction. At each location you see several things:

1. Big orange cones. They narrow the roadway down until the flow is as un-easy as an octogenarian's midnight output. The cones stay there for months or years. What are They doing there?

2. A variety of vehicles, some large, some enormous, resting quietly between their appointed rounds. Perhaps one of these is in action for each dozen deployed. The rest sit and wait. For what?

3. Selected human activity. Sometimes that activity involves coffee. Often there seem to be discussions involved. Sometimes a person with a red flag is sent out to confuse drivers for a while. Very, very occasionally something that appears to be actual construction-related activity is undertaken, but never by more than 20% of those present. What are they talking about, these guys? Why are they laughing so often and so hard? Do they know something we don't? Are they laughing at us? How come?

Why are these mystery projects at the exact place that will create the most congestion for the greatest number of people? Is it because ... They want it that way? They must! For even after They leave a venue--their inexplicable tasks completed--suspicious stuff happens. A lot of the time, They leave things worse.

For instance, after I pass two of these work-in-progress performance-art exhibits, I am dumped into the siphon that feeds the major route down the West Side of Manhattan. And there, right in the middle of the highway for the past six months, there's been a stretch of road whose seams are covered with giant metal plates. As you go over those metal plates that They have put there, your car rocks on its suspension like a nauseated steed. So you have to take the little section at about 25 miles per hour, tops. Which creates agglutination like creosote.

Those plates have been there for months and months and months and months, and nothing has been done about them. The mayor seems dedicated instead to the task of getting people who are poisoning their bodies with alcohol in bars to stop poisoning themselves with tobacco. A worthy goal! Long may he wave! But what's up with that?

Why was I stopped last year on 56th Street for not wearing a seatbelt, when right around the corner UPS and FedEx trucks had created a slalom zone that no vehicle could pass?

Why are man-sized Day-Glo pylons strewn all over the Van Wyck Expressway (Expressway? Hah!) near Kennedy airport, producing cloggage all the way back to the old World's Fair site?

Hey! You in Boston! How about that Big Dig, huh? You think that's just ineptitude? For the first ten years, maybe ... but now? Come on.

And you out there in L.A. Babe. Tell me you don't know what I'm talking about.

All across this great nation of ours, the people are on the move. Except we're not, are we? Well, all that's gotta change, and now. We need to get places! The roads belong to the people! Stop fixing things, and let us pass!