10:07 am
Tue April 27, 2004

Gridlock

A discovery made while stuck in traffic.

Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Catherine's commentary.]

A funny thing happened on the way to the pool the other day. As I sat in a long, paralyzed line of cars, sat and sat and sat, wondering if I did in fact have enough time to drive across town, swim for thirty minutes, and get back to the office before my next appointment, the steering wheel in my car began turning.

For the record I drive a standard shift Volkswagen which is not equipped with a global satellite system or a talking computer that tells me to turn on my lights, to make a left at the light, to remember to get milk on the way home. It?s just a regular, reasonably gas-conscious car?at least I thought it was until the other day.

Before I could process what was happening, my car did a big U-ie in the middle of Military Cutoff, and off to the races we were. I watched the gridlocked faces of other drivers grimace at me. I saw their curiosity and their accusations. They were wondering, ?Yeah, right, you find a better way across town.?

What they couldn?t have known, or if they had known what might?ve concerned them, was that I didn?t quite know where my suddenly self-assured car was taking me.

We crossed Market Street at the light with but a glance at the brake lights pumping on and off and mostly on. We sailed by Lewis? strawberry field as if we owned the town and for a second I wondered if we, the car and me, were abandoning the noontime swim and were finally going to take that drive to Barstow, California.

At I-40 though the Passat hung a left, then it masterfully weaved its way straight down College Road, past putt-putt tourists and vibrating stereophonic jalopies. We hit all green lights, had the car signaled ahead? The swim was relaxing, went by too fast and before I could shake my hair dry the Passat was revving and ready to go. Getting back to Ogden would be an even greater adventure.

Unbeknownst to me, the car had taken a snapshot of the standstill traffic moving one inch per hour going the other way on College Road. As we emerged from the pool, the red lights of a fire truck could be seen on display in the middle of the intersection. One look meant a good twenty minutes or more, just to make it to Oleander. (By now I was reading my car?s thoughts.)

As I despaired, this innovative foreign-made machine snuck through the parking lot over to Shipyard and the next thing I knew I was driving on a road I?d been on maybe three times since living here.

Reality began to dawn on me, as we cruised through azalea-laced neighborhood streets. Somewhere along the way I had transformed into a local. Not a native mind you, those kind, soft-spoken folks who remember when everybody went to the same high school, back when there were five houses total on Middle Sound.

To be a local, though, is to come of age, so to speak, in a place. Being a local means discarding the transient identity of a transplant, it means everything from attending commissioner meetings to putting surfboard pads on top of your car to supporting public radio.

Being a local means investing your heart and soul in the place where you live.

To know the back streets--especially in a burgeoning, caught-in-the-squeeze-oops-forgot-to-plan-ahead kind of town like Wilmington--is to be at home, to claim the community as part of you and yourself as part of it. Wilmington is one special place?gridlock, growth and all.