Poet's Notebook: Stuck with traffic

All jammed up — and still voting for Scott?

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JEANNE MEINKE
  • Jeanne Meinke


Once my nose crawled like a snail on the 
glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, 
compliant fish…

We had a 4 p.m. meeting at the Tampa Museum of Art, and as we nosed into eastbound traffic on the Howard Frankland Bridge and joined the cars dragging themselves across the Bay, I thought of the loggerhead turtles who lurch up the beaches near Fort De Soto every summer. (A bale of turtles = a jam of cars.) Like them, we were awkward and out of our element, but at least they get to lay their eggs.

How can so many people go through this every day? From our side of the bridge, it appears that equal amounts of cars are driving from Tampa to St. Pete as from St. Pete to Tampa. In this new economy of two full-time breadwinners per family, many couples have to work on different sides of the Bay. (Actually, we saw this phenomenon a long time ago, when we lived in St. Paul — but to get to Minneapolis you just had to cross Snelling Avenue, not a seven-mile bridge.)

Now, our car stuck like a bill in Congress, Jeanne and I discussed starting a marriage exchange (EcoHarmony?) where bi-county couples commuting in opposite directions could hook up with compatible partners who work on the same side of the Bay, retaining home visiting rights for the weekend when traffic is lighter. This could be economical (save time), ecological (save gas), and even a little surprising now and then.
It’s either that, or handle it like Poles in the 1970s. The Communist economy was so bad, Polish couples were often forced to take jobs in distant cities, so as I traveled out from Warsaw giving readings in various universities (Gdansk, Poznan, Lodz, Krakow et al) we’d occasionally meet the husband or wife of new friends who lived in Warsaw. The Poles were both resilient and witty; when we’d commiserate, one might give us a sly wink and say, “Hey, every weekend’s a honeymoon, OK?” And travel back and forth — by train, of course — was pleasant and cheap.'

It’s amazing what we’ll put up with. Once, after someone had wondered why the poor in a third world country didn’t revolt, a friend said, “Oh, they’re used to living like that.” We don’t think that’s true, but then we’re astonished to read that so many people still plan on voting for Governor Scott after his rejection in 2011 of government funds for high-speed rail in Florida, and his constant preference for building roads and bridges instead of any kind of rail — unless it benefits his cronies. (He now supports a passenger rail project from Miami to Orlando called All Aboard Florida, overseen by a company that used to employ his chief of staff.)

Scott, along with Senator Marco Rubio, doesn’t believe in man-assisted climate change — or else he just doesn’t want to do anything President Obama thinks is a good idea, so the money ($2 billion!) was reallocated, making Florida’s Tea Party happy, and commuters in California and the Northeast Corridor a lot more comfortable.

A vote for Scott is a vote for four more years of ignoring climate change, increasing pollution (which intensifies the violence of our storms) and ensuring that our painful traffic jams will grow like cancer cells, eating up our highways. Charlie Crist has changed his views as he retools himself into a Democrat, but there’s no doubt about the difference here: Crist will at least try to protect Florida’s once pristine environment. With Scott in the pockets of Big Oil, fracking will sprout around us, oil will seep into our treasured Everglades, and the Howard Frankland Bridge will tremble as cars sit panting on it, like the great sea turtles before they went extinct.

Sometimes poets really are prophets: Robert Lowell published the lines beginning and ending this column in 1964.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage civility
slides by on grease.

–Both quotes from “For the Union Dead,” by Robert Lowell, from For the Union Dead, from The Noonday Press, New York (1972) 

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