Parked in Traffic 

Some of us talk about urban sprawl. Others have to drive it.

Something about moving a 200-horsepower car along at four miles an hour causes my five-horsepower, two-stroke brain to race. It happens every weekday morning at about 7:45, so it cannot be the novelty of it. Nor is it the intellectual stimulation it provides, because the reading material on Germantown Parkway is not very challenging and even less inspirational -- places of worship with animated message boards notwithstanding.

This morning, for example, I learned from bumper stickers that a BMW, two Volvos, and an Audi are the proud parents of honor students at St. Benedict. About twice as many Japanese SUVs are equally proud of offspring at Chimneyrock Elementary School.

At Dexter Road I always do a time check. Today the sign in front of Corky's informed me that it was 8:37 and the temperature was 68 degrees. After moving 15 feet in a southerly direction I noticed that it was 8:38. The clock in my dashboard had not yet changed and this frustrated me a little for about 15 seconds until it matched again. My outside temperature indicator was a degree off as well, but I read the owner's manual -- twice -- and couldn't find a way to calibrate it, even though there was plenty of time to do so if I had brought my tools and one of those mechanic's crawlers to get under the car.

This brought out the entrepreneur in me. Jiffy Lube claims to be able to service your car in about 10 minutes -- While You Wait. A comic-strip lightbulb goes on over my head. While you wait!? Heck, with a little creativity and the right equipment I could change the oil in Cordova's cars While They Drive! With a moderately competent crew we could get three or four turns done before Trinity Commons every day.

I understand that the city intends to widen Germantown Parkway to eight lanes. To anyone familiar with construction patterns, this can mean only one thing: They will spend at least two years on that project, thereby reducing traffic to two lanes for the duration. Ka-CHING! On rainy days, a barely mobile windshield-wiper concession. On sunny days, auto detailing! The variations are endless.

By Walnut Grove Road, the faces in the cars around me, so bright and eager back at Rock Creek, assumed a dejected resignation reminiscent of the prisoners on the way to the Japanese camps at Bataan. That made me reconsider: If it got out that I was responsible for putting dozens of new service vehicles on the parkway daily, the road rage would be too horrible to contemplate.

And so the slow procession crept on as it always did, losing a few cars here, gaining a hundred there, until we eventually parted with this Devil's Island of asphalt from which there is no escape but death or the completion of the daily sentence placed on us by the planning commission and the zoning board. I resumed my reading, but farther south the material becomes even more banal, mostly logos and brightly colored names: Kroger, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and opening soon -- SUPER Target! The parkway has been in sore need of a little more retail, more traffic, and -- oh yeah -- another traffic signal.

By the time I parked my car at the office my brain was generating the pure alpha waves of a dream state, but my subconscious dredged up one more fact. I've been traveling this road for many years and have had plenty of time to sample the moving literature of the suburbs, and there is one sticker I've never seen on this trip, even though there are thousands weathering on bumpers in Midtown and I'll wager thousands more in warehouses awaiting the clarion call if the question comes up again. It has a four-word message with a graphic representation of a roadway backed by green. It says simply, "Don't Split Shelby Farms."

Dan Johnson is director of computing services at Exel Transportation Services, Inc.

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