I hate winter. It’s too goddamn cold. It’s ridiculous. All it does is cause problems. You know that sort of riddle-type question people sometimes ask, “Would you rather be really sweaty hot or really freezing cold?” I hate it when people say, “Oh, freezing cold because I can always wear more layers to stay warm.” That’s just a backwards way of saying you’d rather be hot. Besides, I’d rather be hot because at least then I’d be able to move my fuckin’ limbs.
Winter was the cause of my trip from hell roughly a month or so ago. I went to Johnson City, Tennessee for my sister’s college graduation ceremony. Now, granted, a trip to Johnson City for any reason is hellish enough to begin with, but when you add wintery weather into the mix, it only heightens the agony. Under normal conditions, a drive from Nashville to Johnson City is roughly four-and-a-half to five hours.
Mine took twelve. TWELVE.
And here’s where our saga begins:
It’s mid-December. Late afternoon. I’m on I-40 en route to I-81. I’ve been on the road for about four hours. It starts to snow a bit, but it’s the home stretch, so I’m not concerned about it. I’m about 30 miles from my exit onto I-81. As I get about 10 miles closer, I begin to see some red glows off in the distance. You know that moment when you see a traffic jam up ahead, and you wanna pretend it’s not really there even though you’re heading RIGHT FOR IT? You’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “Ah, I think we’ll be fine.” Then you get a little closer, and you have that painful moment of concession where you’re like, “OHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOO!”
That’s a nice moment, isn’t it? That feeling of impending doom, and you can’t do anything to stop it. I look around: it’s snowing HARD, and it’s starting to accumulate on the road pretty heavily. I slow down to a crawl, and then…to a complete stop. And all you can think is…
So I’m sitting there. And I’m waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. Soon enough, my mind began to wander. I don’t know if you know this, but traffic jams are, honest to God, the keys to your subconscious. You will never have stranger thoughts than when you’re in a situation like that. Your mind will go to all kinds of weird places. You’ll sit there sifting through your brain like a radio dial:
“If I dropped a basketball from the Empire State Building, how high would it bounce back up?…What if you had an addiction to support groups for addiction?…When mimes have sex, do they use real condoms or just mime it?”
Then an hour goes by, and nothing has changed. You haven’t moved. The snow keeps piling up. The road begins to freeze over. And then, just as the night falls and you are left to your own inner dementia beneath the frigid moonlight, your brain starts going to darker places:
“I think for my funeral, I’m not gonna be buried or cremated. I’m just gonna have an envelope filled with money stuffed inside my body and then have my friends and relatives dig around for it…The best way to commit a murder has to be stabbing someone to death with an icicle. Because then when the icicle melts, you’d have no fingerprints, no murder weapon, and a dead motherfucker. It’s perfect!”
And when you’re sitting there, you eventually realize how trapped you really are. You know that, right? You’re helpless, and there’s nothing you can do. Nothing. NOTHING. You look ahead: cars behind cars. You look behind: cars behind cars. You are stuck. It’s a truly one-of-a-kind existential crisis. There are ways to fight back, though, or at least relieve yourself of the pent-up rage that has accumulated faster than the piles of snow along the road. After a few hours, I got out of the car and made a snowman on the side of the road. Then I stood it down, yelled, “FUCK YOU, FROSTY! AHHHHHH!” and kicked its fuckin’ head off. It wasn’t much but it was a nice revenge fantasy that paid off, if only in the short term.
Then, at one point, after being stuck for about three or four hours, I saw a car with some decals on it promoting some business called the Video Game Hospital: All Systems Repaired. And in my slowly devolving primitive state, I just kept repeating it. I don’t know why I did this—I was already far enough into the deep end to not give a shit. Video Game Hospital: All Systems Repaired. And then I had an epiphany: humanity is really not that far along the evolutionary scale. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying I DON’T believe in evolution. I completely and unequivocally DO, but I realized that humans are not as highly evolved as we sometimes like to think we are. In fact, in my hazy diversions, I inadvertently determined that we’re really only about four sentences away from becoming Neanderthals again, because I was sitting there repeating that phrase—Video Game Hospital: All Systems Repaired—but each time I repeated the phrase, the more primitive I became. The pattern went like this:
“Video Game Hospital: All Systems Repaired.”
“Vidja Gaym Hawspitale: All Sisstims Ruhpayred.”
“Viya Gaye Hasitle: Aw Sissmz Rapurred.”
Finally, it just went all the way from, “Video Game Hospital: All Systems Repaired,” down to:
Cars next to me are watching me have this crazy primal breakdown, like a gorilla that can’t crack open the coconut.
The total scale of the traffic jam was this: it took me six hours to go twenty miles. That is the absolute truth. It took longer to get through those last twenty miles than the entire trip would have taken under normal conditions. By the way, if you’ve never been in a six-hour traffic jam during a snowstorm, here’s what it’s like: go into your kitchen, open your refrigerator, and take everything out. Empty the whole thing. Then, get inside, close the door, and wait to die. It’s roughly the same experience, but you don’t have to shell out money for gas.
The worst part of the whole trip was telling people about it after the fact, and their pathetic attempts to empathize with what happened. You ever have that one guy who tries to empathize with you, but it comes off as sounding insulting? I was talking to a friend of mine about the trip and after I tell the story, he goes, “Yeah, man, I had a thing like that happen to me once in Arkansas, except I was only stopped for about an hour. I know how that is, man.” No, you fuckin’ don’t. That’s like saying, “Oh, man, you’ve got cancer? Dude, yeah, I once had a mole that the doctor wanted to get tested but then it turned out it wasn’t cancerous. Fuckin’ scary, dude! I can TOTALLY relate!”
At which point, you should relate your fist to his face.
Until next time,