Time Bandits

“What’s the big hurry?” – Clover’s standard refrain. It is the peal of the left-lane hog, the cry of the slow-motion merger; the eructation of the guy who refuses to even think about making a right turn against red – even where it’s legal. Even when the way is obviously clear and it’s safe to proceed. They don’t even bother to look. Instead, they sit – and make you wait.

They say it’s only a moment of your time – be patient!

But of course, it is in fact many moments. Added up, they account for hours – even days – we’ll never get back. Time we won’t have to do productive work – or simply be where we wanted to be instead of being stuck behind a Clover. In a week, dozens of them. Over the course of a year, thousands. And a lifetime?

It probably doesn’t bear thinking about too much.

Financial advisers counsel us that even seemingly trivial “throw away expenses” – for example, buying a cup of Starbuck’s coffee every day – can sieve away a great deal of one’s disposable income over time and that’s it’s smart to be aware of where the money’s going. Let’s stop and consider where our time is going in the course of a hypothetical – but probably pretty typical – commute:

Entering the main road from one’s neighborhood, a Clover up ahead is creating a logjam by driving 36 MPH – even though the road is posted 45. Normally, it takes just 10 minutes to traverse the distance to the traffic light where one merges onto the freeway for the trip downtown. But the Clover at the head of the conga has added three minutes to the drive – subtracting three minutes from yourlife.

You finally get to the light. But, you aren’t able to ease your car into the turn lane – because several Clovers have left as much as a full car length of open space between their cars and the car ahead of them. The turn lane can normally accommodate eight cars, but – courtesy of those Clovers – this time just five. That means waiting twice for the light rather than just the once. It takes the light 5 minutes to cycle again.

Five more minutes lost to Clover.

When the light finally does go green, invariably, there is a Clover who wasn’t paying attention and so took a moment – literally, took a moment (your moment) – to notice the green, then for the image to process in his brain, then for the brain to translate that into action. He makes it through the light – but you don’t.

Another 5 minutes lost to the ages.

At last, you make it through the intersection and begin the process of merging with traffic on the freeway. Except you’re forced to abruptly slow down – because of the Clover up ahead (who is probably the same Clover who made you miss the last green light) who has stopped his car on the on-ramp. And so, time stops – for the both of you. You sit – and wait – until Clover decides it’s “safe” for him to creep onto the freeway at 15 MPH (with his left turn signal on, of course) and gives the semi driver doing 70 he pulls right in front of an opportunity to test his brakes. Fingers crossed, there won’t be a crash – and the freeway closed for the next two or three hours.

Meanwhile, another minute or two down the drain.

You eventually get on the freeway yourself. The speed limit is 70 – and traffic often flows considerably faster, enabling you to make up for time lost. If your path and Clover’s don’t cross. All too often, they do. And just as it only takes a teaspoonful of feces to spoil a gallon of the finest ice cream, all it takes is a single Clover to spectacularly ruin what might otherwise have been a speedy, time-efficient drive. There’s a guy up ahead in the left lane – it might be the same Clover who made you wait through two light cycles near the on-ramp – and he’s doing the vehicular equivalent of a great big glob of yellow, chunky fat in your right coronary artery: Gumming up the works, making it impossible for anything to flow freely.

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