It’s not too late for one of those Happy New Year posts, is it? Sigh. What can I say, I’ve been busy. Not with any writing related issues, unfortunately. Instead, I did all the after-vacation laundry and other stuff, built two elevated beds for the kids (the fancy type with included desk and closet; the beds, not the kids), saw Rise of Skywalker (yeah, I know), painted yet another wall, and got a pretty good head start on my current translation job. Not bad for two weeks, all things considered.
Oh, and I also drove something like 900km. Like you do as an expat. Most of my family lives a day’s journey away from me. A journey which we embark upon at least once a year. By car, because going by train would be torture for the dog. She’s not a big fan of the car either, but at least we can easily stop for a pee. Going down the highway for an entire day means you get to hear a lot of bad music, you see a lot of construction sites, and you experience a lot of traffic jams. There’s the slow-building ones, the kind where everybody gradually steps onto the brakes until three lanes are going 5km/h instead of 130km/h. There’s the sudden ones, where you hit the brakes as hard as you can and still have to sort of swerve over into the neighboring lane to avoid being rear-ended by the car behind you. There’s the ones that still move at a snail’s pace, and the ones where everything grinds to a complete halt. I’ve seen them all, and more. The kids get edgy and start complaining because an already endless drive just got that little bit longer, your gaze jerks to the dashboard every few minutes to check on the fuel, but somewhere deep inside you is a calm, quiet spot where you know that while you may be stuck, you’re actually the lucky one. You’re experiencing the symptoms. You aren’t the cause. Not today.
And then comes the unavoidable moment when you pass by the cause. The ambulance will already be gone, but there might yet be the ruins of a car on the breakdown lane, or a few innocuous shards of shattered glass. Traffic picks up again and everybody around you hits the gas to get the hell away from that scene and to make up for the lost time, while you go a meek 110km/h on the slowest lane and just breathe.
Sometimes you’ll see the ambulance speeding by, or a fire truck or three. And sometimes you still get to see the people who were called to deal with the aftermath. And you know you really, really don’t want their jobs. You don’t want to be the guy who stands on the fast lane while an entire highway worth of cars rushes by him, his only cover a flimsy shield notifying people that the lane is closed, and a broom in his hand as he sweeps up broken pieces of someone else’s life. Or the young cop who steps out into the traffic to stop three lanes crammed with impatience and anger, so that the crew can drag the crashed car from the fast lane over to the breakdown lane. I was the first in line when that cop stepped onto the highway, and even if we were only going 30km/h at that point, I’ll never forget his expression, the fear in his eyes, as he wondered whether his raised hand really had the power to stop the avalanche.
I’ve been driving those highways regularly now for about twenty years. It’s routine and it’s boring, but those moments grant a little perspective, a little gratitude. In this spirit, allow me to belatedly wish you a Happy New Year. It will be a good one, I’m sure of it.