I had an odd experience. I went to Oregon. I thought, innocent me, that I was going to the Pacific Northwest. I thought, ignorant me, that I would be visiting rugged terrain, raging rivers, the ghosts of beneficent cowboys, fresh air, independent spirits, and vigor. Westward Ho the Wagons.
Was I ever wrong.
Know what I found in Bend, Oregon? Are your ready for this?
Traffic circles. That’s right. Traffic circles.
Lest you suspect confusion on my part, I am not talking about clover leafs. Clover leafs are familiar to all experienced travelers, and even make a graceful kind of sense as they swoon over rapidly moving cars. Nor am I talking about jug handles. Even they, after we grasp the concept of turning right to go left, have a cockamamie kind of logic. Particularly since road signs alert us well in advance, “All turns from the right.” In fact, after our initial baptism of perplexing traffic patterns, exiting from a cloverleaf or a jug handle is no harder than flicking on a turn signals and aiming at a ramp.
Not so with … even thinking about it gives me a headache. Traffic circles.
My associate and I had met up in Oregon to put on a presentation about analyzing fire scene photographs. The deal was that I would drive our rental car during the four-day conference, and Jim, much smarter than I, with Ph.D.s in just about everything, would sit in the passenger seat and navigate.
Each day, after we had settled upon our objective (supermarket, restaurant, coffee shop), I would hunch behind the steering wheel, knuckles white, foot on gas pedal, and Jim would be shouting—hands over his face to protect him from shards of windshield glass resulting from an anticipated collision – “Yield! Yield!”
Sheesh. Traffic circles. They are stupid. They are counter-intuitive. They are frustrating. They are dangerous. Round and round we went, in a land without corners. Round and round, passing streets with signs cleverly hidden by foliage to baffle those who had rashly come here from Outside. In this context, please remember that Oregon is the only state whose governor has ever publicly declared, “Visit us again and again, but for heaven’s sake please don’t stay.” Obviously, they had never wanted us there in the first place. Round and round, with no clue to navigation other than one barely perceptible sign echoing Jim’s panicked instructions to “Yield! Yield!”
Yield to what? From where? Where the heck were all of the cars coming from? Where were they going? And why was everyone driving in the same direction? Round and round, like an anti-gravity centrifuge threatening, after dozens of incomprehensible revolutions, to launch our rental car into outer space.
“How do we get downtown?” We had innocently asked the desk clerk. “Turn right out of the hotel.” Her diabolical response had been. “Stay on the road, and continue through four traffic circles.”
Ha! You mean arrive at the first traffic circle, and never get away from it. Round and round and ... you get the drift.
I herein predict, emphatically, passionately, and courtesy of my State of Oregon headache, that traffic circles are the beginning of the end of civilization. I had once thought that everything great about the United States of America came to us courtesy of the Declaration of Independence. Now, however, I am convinced that our greatness came from sharp edged, intellect inducing corners. Without corners, we would be nothing. We would have nothing. We would be spiritually and culturally bereft.
Consider Frank Loesser’s lyrics: “Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by.” The song describes a commitment. An occupation. A devotion to aesthetics. With no friendly intersection, where would boys go to watch girls? Where would girls go to be watched?
Consider the corner deli. Or The Shop Around the Corner. Or painting yourself into a corner. Or hanging out at the corner, as in: “All of the bad kids hang out there and rarely brush their teeth.”
Consider these simple but elegant words: “Meet me at the corner.” How lucid. How articulate. Clarification might, indeed, be sought by asking, “Which corner?” But the answer would delight! Hollywood and Vine. Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. The corner of Elm and Main, outside the drug store and across from the library.
Consider, on the other hand: Meet me at the traffic circle? Where, for heaven’s sake on the circle? At the 15 degree arc? At 45 degrees? At 90 degrees? Stupid. Ludicrous. Without poetry or dignity. To say nothing of the dangers of trying to cross a corner-less street!
Give me a real, honest-to-goodness intersection. Any day. Remember that a corner is not only a great place to watch girls, enter a drug store, catch a bus, and make sane and logical turns, it is also the place at which we meet our destinies. Why? Because love is just around the corner.
Bing Crosby wrote and sang it.
I affirm it.
Love, indeed, is just around the corner. But not, I assure you, in “for heaven’s sake please don’t stay” Oregon.