Ross: Being stuck in traffic can feel dehumanizing (Version 2)

25 July 2023

On Thursday I presented a commentary. But I actually have two versions of that commentary.

I wrote my version first, then I took the opening line, fed it to Chat GPT and told it to write the next 500 words (as if it was me.)

Here are the two commentaries. Which one did I write?

Dave’s Commentary:

Wednesday’s commute nightmare again had me thinking, why? How did we become so dependent on freeways? And why do we just accept being stuck in traffic all the time?

I was raised during the dawn of suburbia. My parents left the Bronx, where they grew up, to settle an hour north of the city in a country paradise where distance didn’t matter.

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You didn’t need to wait for a bus or a train. If you had a car, you could travel on your schedule, anywhere, anytime, for any reason, as long as you had enough gas.

The very definition of freedom.

And yet, as a kid, I remember feeling trapped. We lived on almost two acres, we had a tennis court, neighbors with swimming pools, but you couldn’t walk anywhere. If you wanted to do anything with other people, you needed a car.

So I spent a lot of time in my room with a tape recorder, mimicking radio and TV shows.

But from time to time, we would drive to the Bronx to visit my grandparents.

Occasionally I got to stay with them. And it was on those visits that the world began to open up. They didn’t have a car. They didn’t need a car. They could walk to the grocer, the butcher, and the church. And a 10-cent token took you anywhere from Radio City to the Statue of Liberty. Now that felt like freedom.

I sometimes reflect when I’m stuck on a freeway with thousands of others who I can’t see, ‘What are we all doing here?’ Listening to KIRO Newsradio, obviously, but we could do that anywhere! It’s an amazing signal, with no buffering, no dropouts.

However, when you’re sealed and belted in a car at 70 miles an hour, there’s always that lurking anxiety.

‘What’s that jerk behind me going to do?’ ‘Who’s in my blind spot?’ ‘That truck was way too close!’ ‘Is there a bicycle on my right?’ ‘What if that guy buried in his phone steps into that crosswalk?’

It takes a toll, and I’m not just talking about your Good To Go! bill. It hardens you toward your fellow commuter and humanity in general.

Now when you’re walking in a crowd of people, you can say ‘Sorry.’ ‘Excuse me.’ ‘Pardon me.’ ‘Love your hat!’

But in traffic – we are reduced to communicating by blinking lights and honking like a bunch of circus clowns.

What to do? Well, create more neighborhoods that don’t need cars, but while we’re waiting for that to happen, suppose that every five years, we let everybody who commutes on Interstate 90 gather for a giant block party on the bridge? So we can at least meet each other. I want to meet the people who hold my life in their hands. Maybe share a cookie.

And maybe come to see them as human beings instead of obstacles.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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