[Originally ran in the January 2015 issue of The Village.]
On Friday, October 3rd, at exactly 4:30 p.m., I did something which I had never done before – something that made me uncomfortable, something that was foreign to my psyche, something that instilled in me a sense of unease which took months to shake. And no, it wasn’t watching back-to-back episodes of Three’s Company on TV Land. It was worse. Yes, there are things worse than watching back-to-back episodes of Three’s Company on TV Land. And I’m not talking about ordering a glass of water without lemon and then the waitress returns to the table looking all innocent and there, floating in your glass of water, is a wedge of lemon, which is a close second.
No, what happened is this: I had to stop at a traffic light at the mouth of High Street in Kennebunk. I was driving south on Route 1, having crossed the Mousam River bridge, and was preparing to turn right onto High Street – a fairly common practice of mine ever since moving into a house on High Street 21 years earlier – when my forward motion was impeded by a glaring red light that had not existed when I was heading north on Route 1 a few hours earlier.
The workmen had finished their job. The traffic lights had been installed. It was all part of the readjustment of the mouth of High Street, which used to be a wide and unruly junction that begged for accidents to happen there. The road joined Route 1 at such a tight angle that, more often than not, people heading into High Street failed to use their directionals, and those heading out of High Street did so at such a ridiculously casual diagonal that it’d take them ten times as long to join the traffic lane of Route 1 than if they had driven across the street perpendicularly. Either practice was potentially dangerous, so I understood when the mouth of the road was reconfigured and narrowed with berms and sidewalks and plantings. And traffic lights.
But one cannot ignore the deep-seated, instinctual, inexorable power of OFB, which, for the purposes of this family paper, we’ll call Old Fogey Behavior. OFB is not reserved solely for people qualifying for the plentiful array of services provided by the good people at AARP, which could really save on postage by mailing out fewer solicitations for life insurance (Yeah, OK, I get it already, I’m rapidly approaching my grave – or rather, my urn).
OFB, in its simplest definition, is a form of conservatism which bemoans change, coloring the past in rosy tones while conveniently whitewashing its sins and shortcomings. For example, one might hear a senior pine for the good old days of the 1940s and ‘50s, to which one could reasonably respond, “You mean when everyone who wasn’t a white Christian male heterosexual property-owner either got a raw deal or feared for their lives? Yeah, that must’ve been great.”
Societal shifts aside, though, I get it. The makes of cars were easily identifiable and people looked better when dressed by Edith Head. We all think things were better when we were kids, because that’s when we learned about the world around us. Why should it change? Why would it want to?
The intersection of Route 1 and High Street never had a traffic light. And then BAM, it had one. OFB dictated that I should hate it, and grumble “Ahh, it never needed one, and still doesn’t.” Or, “It ruins the landscape.” Or, “What’s next, a pedestrian footbridge?” Or, “Is Twitter the same thing as Pinterest?”
Instead, I determined to take the high road (which, I should point out, does not have a traffic light at either end). I vowed to take this axis-tilting change in stride, to trust that the authorities had pored over traffic studies and had done the right thing, and to not spout profanities at the inside of my windshield when forced to wait twelve seconds before being able to turn onto High Street from Route 1. My success rate in this endeavor grew steadily from October through December, at which point I had come to accept a new reality that could have crushed a weaker soul.
After all, we can’t expect the world to freeze when we’re sixteen. Which is just as well. 1980 had its cherished moments, but “Do That to Me One More Time” wasn’t one of them.