Alaska, like anyplace else, has layers. One of these layers is our driving life. I consider my driving life separate from the rest of my life. It’s a unique life, inside of a rolling capsule that only I control. When we drive to work we’re usually alone in our capsules, unless we ride-share.
Since I live in Eagle River, ten miles north of Anchorage, I drive the infamous Glenn Highway, a subset layer of my life. Glenn Highway traffic has its own ecosystem. It even has its own Facebook page, where drivers shame each other. It’s quite entertaining. You hope you and your car don’t show up there.
I wonder when I see these Facebook photos, are the drivers that take them paying attention to their own driving? This can have a domino effect: A driver sees someone holding their phone up to snap a shot of the original violator. Then they hold their phone up to take a photo of the photo-taker, who is taking a photo of someone else…then it becomes a Chain-of-Shame. Everyone is taking pictures of everyone taking pictures and pretty soon you have the China Syndrome. And you know they’re all driving, one hand on the wheel and one eye on the road. See where this is going?
I’ve confused myself.
According to a recent article in The Washington Times, the Associated Press (AP) compiled and reported commuter data of U.S. metro areas with at least 100,000 people. Anchorage qualified with our population of 304,000. The AP says it takes Anchorage commuters 23 minutes on average, getting to work, compared to the mean travel time of 26 minutes nationally. So what does that say about us?
What comes to mind is our frenzied driving in summer and our studded driving in winter. Let me explain. As we gain more daylight up here, north of 60 degrees latitude, people get excited. They’re psyched, pumped, stoked, and amped (depending what generation you are). Everyone wants to get out and do things, drive places, get somewhere to enjoy the long daylight hours. And why not? We chomp at the bit to shed our cabin fever from the long, dark winter. Yes, we do get out and drive in winter, but it isn’t the same on dark, icy roads. Plus we’re dependent on headlights, which flicker out at the wrong times. We’re tired of injuring our toes kicking them (those of us that can kick that high) and stinging our mittened hands banging on the frozen dashboard of our car trying to get the headlights back on.
So, we jackrabbit around in summer—when we aren’t in construction zones. It isn’t called Summer here, it’s called Construction season. In the winter, most people drive with studded snow tires. Studs are metal spikes that populate car tires like a punk-rocker’s dog collar, but a tad smaller. They eat snow and ice, and at times gobble the pavement, during our mid-winter ‘pineapple express’ warm-ups (gifts sent to us from Alaska’s kindred-orphan state, Hawaii).
Back to the Glenn Highway commute. On a good day, in non-rush hour traffic in the summer, I can leave Eagle River and be in downtown Anchorage in 20 minutes. During rush-hour, 25 minutes. The AP says 23 minutes. Why are Anchorage area commuters ‘faster and more efficient’ as the AP article states?
Simple. We pay attention to our driving. We have to; otherwise we wouldn’t arrive safely, if we hit the doofus moose or the dum-dee-dum bear standing on the highway, gaping at our cars as we hurtle toward them. And there are humans that sometimes bolt across.
Case in point: Yesterday on the Glenn Highway, I saw a glossy, red airplane flying over the highway, with a PROGRESSIVE? ASK FLO! sign waving behind it. Then an F-22 Raptor military jet flew across the highway, low and slow, to land at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER). Even if you don’t see this sleek, stealth jet (after all, it is stealthing) right away, your steering wheel vibrates and your ears fill with its roar. It’s kind of a rush…wish I could fly one—oh yeah, pay attention! Focus on my driving! Then, two teen boys dashed across the six lanes of traffic; like Eddie Murphy in a scene from Bowfinger, when Steve Martin tells him to run across the Hollywood Freeway for his movie. (Unfortunately, we’ve had people hit by cars when crossing this highway).
To top it off, some wonderfully ‘fit’ airmen in shorts and tight tee shirts from the military base were running in formation along the trail that parallels the Glenn Highway. Pay attention to my driving! See what we go through to reach these Associated Press statistics, so Anchorage can be show-cased nationally in The Washington Post? We drive through obstacle courses, like a video game. Up pops a moose! Up pops a bear! Guys with tight butts! Here comes an airplane! Now that’s being a team-player for our community.
Way to go, Anchorage! We’ll strive to maintain that AP golden-standard-23-minute-average commute, by gum. We’ll concentrate on our driving, as we roll around our magnificent, distraction-rich state, to keep our highways safe, fast, and efficient. After all, we don’t want to disappoint great statistical institutions, like the Associated Press.
Why? Because we’re Alaskans. We like superlatives—the biggest, the most, the best…And because we pay attention to our driving—especially when doing the Chain-of-Shame.
© Lois Paige Simenson and The Alaska Philosophaster, 2015, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to The Alaska Philosophaster with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. LIPS