Traffic schadenfreude and a little ditty

A lone cyclist riding in the express lane with a traffic jam in the other lanes of a highway

The past few weeks I’ve been out and about on some bike or other, around town or on short road rides as I get accustomed to more time on the saddle.  One of the great pleasures of summer for me (as an academic who commutes 40+ miles by car during the term) is the luxury of leaving the car behind and using a bike for a lot of transportation and errands.  So I’ve been going to the dentist (in downtown Boston), church (in Charlestown), meetings (all over), and grocery stores (nearby) on two wheels.

Thank goodness for that, because the traffic has been absolutely horrific lately.  It’s road construction/patching/digging up streets for no apparent reason season. There are detours aplenty, narrowed lanes on already clogged roads, giant pieces of machinery taking up space, and who knows what else.  All of this contributes to very slow going, from anywhere to anywhere else.  Here’s a particularly interesting example of convoluted detours for cyclists wanting just to ride between Cambridge and Boston without having to swim across the Charles River.

A color-coded map of routes for cyclists riding between Cambridge and Boston, including choke points and swervy bits.

There’s been construction on the Longfellow Bridge for years now, hopefully to reopen in June 2018.  The traffic patterns are prone to change without warning, which further ups the ante for commuting cyclists.

But hey– riding a bike through this mess is way Way WAY better than driving through it!  Every day this week I found myself on two wheels during either end of day, middle of day, or morning rush hours.  Lots of cars were stacked up at all lights, while I carefully made my way to the front of the line, all the while smiling smugly to myself.

Enter the schadenfreude.  What’s schadenfreude?  It is a German word that means roughly “joy at the misfortune of others”.  It’s not a nice word.  But it does describe my feelings sometimes while cycling in traffic.

I know, I should engage in life activities that promote oneness with the world and with myself.  I should cycle with the intention to embody compassion for all sentient beings, regardless of the number of wheels on their vehicle.  Like these guys are probably doing.

Two monks in orange robes, riding bikes with baskets on the front, also carrying pink plaid and blue/yellow umbrellas for shade on a blue sunny day.

But sometimes, we don’t really want to hear what the better angels of our nature have to say.  We want to enjoy our good fortune with a generous side of smugness.

Of course I know that I am very privileged to have the time, resources, body abilities, geographic location, and knowledge and know-how to ride for pleasure and utility in my regular life.  Many many people lack those privileges, and I take this moment to say how grateful I am to be able to live this way.

Seriously, though,  I think it’s good to celebrate the feelings of liberation from traffic that cycling brings.  It’s something we talk about a lot on this blog, but it felt worth bringing up again.

And in honor of the joy of whizzing around town to and fro, I made up a little song, to be sung to the tune of “But Not For Me”.  My favorite version is by the immortal Billie Holiday– listen to it here.  I changed the words around a little.  Here goes:

The traffic’s just a mess,

but not for me.

ve-hi-cu-lar distress,

but not for me.

I know my ETA,

and there’ll be no delay,

commuting feels like play,

I guarantee.

I was a fool to drive–

it’s not the way.

Heigh ho alas and also lackaday (this is from the original– maybe they got stuck for lyrics, too)

Although I can’t deny

that cars can sometimes fly,

Oh driving’s not— for— me.  

There are currently no plans to quit my day job to become a lyricist.  But enjoy this ditty, and try humming a little song of your own while riding your bike somewhere.   Maybe some day we’ll all get caught in this kind of traffic jam, which I won’t mind at all.

Hundreds of cyclists riding down a city street, with a small boy riding in the foreground.





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