In the days since I've dismissed my driver Jenkins and resumed schlepping my own ass back and forth to work, I'm listening to tons of NPR and all the Cokie Roberts' and Robert Siegles' with their voices sounding like rich drinks and dark, grained wood and generally feeling edified about things distant and abstract like Ugandan subsistence farmers' struggle (yes, it's unified) against weeds.
A fact about NPR is that no matter where you are, in the morning and in the evening they assume their listeners are either in the car or about to be, so they interrupt the broadcast every 15 minutes or so with the 'Shadow Traffic Report,' which is strangely at home amongst the other abstract news they consider important on NPR, because it's depressing and unavoidable and you can't do a damned thing about it.
And that's how I started to question the whole enterprise of the Traffic Report. What good is it doing? Clearly it's not making traffic any better, because every morning and evening it's more or less the same, though inevitably, imperceptibly, creepingly worse than the day before. Traffic is just one of those horrid snowballs of a problem that is certain to eat the world if given enough time. I saw a glimmer of hope in the economic meltdown, when suddenly public transit got crowded, but then the bottom dropped out of oil, cash for clunkers came along and we're back in the business of mushrooming motor cars covering the globe.
But back to the question, why does NPR persist with this enumeration of life's suckier side? Is it because there's some naive hope held that we might change our behavior based on the Traffic Report? Like, well, dang, WHYY says the traffic's bad, I guess I'll go another way to keep things from getting worse. I'm like 95% rational, and that's not how I work.
So it must be that they, or we, humanity man, gets some pleasure or comfort from knowing that everyone's in this shit together. Well, eastbound Schuylkill's jammed at the curve and crawling, but at least we don't have it as bad as those suckers on 276 West where a four-car fatality has emergency response vehicles on the scene and all four lanes closed. Sucks to be them. Hey! I have it pretty good!
And they don't neglect to rub it in by having no sponsorship scruples and reminding the screwed lot of us that 'today's traffic report is brought to you by Preparation H' or, indirectly, the collective hemorrhoids that are just one of the many collateral problems we can look forward to after too much time in traffic. What a neat little package.