Several years ago, while firmly ensconced in the job from hell, I wrote an Office version of Dante’s Purgatory. What can I tell you. I read a lot and I needed an outlet for all my pent up frustrations before I became a news story. Fast-forward two years, and I’m in a different job and have escaped cubicle hell. Yes, I actually work from home. I believe it is my reward for previous suffering. One day a week, however, I have to venture out of the safety of my house and go to the office…150 miles away. For those of you doing the math, that’s 300 miles round-trip. On those days, I spend an average of 6 hours in the car driving from Sacramento to the Bay Area. As I sat in traffic Tuesday, wondering how long it was going to be before we all started moving again, I decided it was time to write a new version of Purgatory.
Dante’s purgatory consisted of two levels of “ante-purgatory,” then the seven levels of purgatory itself. Once one made it through the levels, they entered Paradise. Here are my nine levels of Purgatory: Commuter Edition.
Ante-Purgatory 1: No Signal, Self-Entitled Lane Changers
Nothing spoils a pleasant commute like someone almost running you off the road because THEY want to be in YOUR lane. You know the type. They rarely use a signal and tend to drift towards the lane, as if that is supposed to indicate they want to move. They don’t use their car mirrors at all, well, except to maybe check their hair. I deal with at least one of these drivers every commute. What has so far kept me from being a stamp on the back of their car? My Force-inspired mind-reading and quick reflexes. Frankly, only a Jedi can successfully avoid these assholes.
Ante-Purgatory 2: Crazy Tailgaters
Tailgaters are the bullies of the freeway. They have no problem speeding down the freeway at 80 mph with their front bumper 3 inches away from yours. They don’t care if you are trying to pass a caravan of slower cars. They want you out of the way. NOW. I used to think this was primarily a male issue, along the lines of also driving a really large vehicle to compensate for a lack of something below the waist. I’ve discovered though, that women can be just as bad. Perhaps they’re compensating for bad hair. Being a bit of a bitch, I tend to fuck with these types of drivers. Sometimes I’m even able to enlist other drivers to help me through cool Jedi mind tricks. Nothing pleases me more than to see this kind of driver boxed in with nowhere to go. After all, if we come across a CHP officer, I’m not the one who will get the ticket for unsafe driving or speeding.
Level 1: Neurotic Texters
We’ve all heard the studies about how texting while driving is dangerous. Several states have laws against it. But does that stop people? Hell no! 15 years ago, we didn’t have texting. We waited until we got home, picked up the phone, and had a non-distracted conversation with the person on the other end. Now, we seem to be a culture conditioned to text and talk wherever we are. Newsflash: the text can wait. So can the phone call. Just last week, I kept a wary eye on the woman driving behind me because I could see she was paying more attention to her phone than the space between our cars. Twice, she nearly hit me. I was relieved when she moved to a new lane, only to end up next to her, where she weaved in and out of the lane as she continued to focus on her fucking phone.
Level 2: Lane Zig-Zaggers
One of the most dangerous types of driver on the road is the zig-zagger. This is the person who firmly believes that if they cut in and out of lanes, they will magically get to their destination an hour earlier. They rarely use signals. They almost always drive too fast. Maybe if they had left the house a little earlier, they wouldn’t need to drive so recklessly. The end result: getting to the destination no faster than if they had just stayed in the same damn lane. When I come across them a few miles later, stuck behind a block of cars, I like to smile and wave…with my middle finger.
Level 3: Oops, There’s My Exit
Cousin to the Zig-Zaggers, these drivers have a knack for not planning ahead. They are happily driving along, oblivious to their surroundings (and probably texting), when they suddenly realize they need to exit. Oh shit! What do they do? They quickly cut across four lanes of traffic, nearly taking out several cars in the process, so they can get off the freeway. Yes, it would be safer to go up another exit and turn around. But that would take a few minutes out of their precious day. Nope. Can’t have that. They’d rather put the lives of everyone around them at risk just so they can say they made it on time.
Level 4: Fastlane Slowpokes
This kind of driver takes many forms and often results in other drivers committing acts previously mentioned. Sometimes a delivery truck takes up residence in this lane and goes along at a moderate 60 mph for reasons unknown to the rest of us. Sure, there are occasions when they are actually passing a slower vehicle. The problem is they don’t move back over where they belong. Other times, you get the assholes who feel entitled to using the lane because they are going the posted speed limit. Blame the speeders if you want, but it IS called the fast lane. If the cars around you are zipping by and there’s a long line of traffic behind you, you need to get the fuck out of the lane.
Level 5: Readers
The first time I came across one of these drivers, I was shocked. Reading? While driving? Are you crazy?! I guess I can understand looking at something if you’re stopped in traffic, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the drivers who are moving down the road with a book or newspaper open in front of them…on the steering wheel. This is just as bad as the texters. If you really want to get through your book that badly, get an audio version. Otherwise, it can wait until you’re home and your car is safely parked.
Level 6: Makeup Appliers
This is probably the only case where the offender is exclusively female. When I come across these women, several things go through my head: “What, you couldn’t have gotten up a little earlier to do that?” or “I hope that mascara wand sticks you in the eye.” I admit, the reaction is a bit on the bitchy side. But can you blame me? Is your makeup oh so important that it can’t wait until your car is no longer moving? And if it’s that important, I think you need to get your ass up earlier. I’m not talking about those who apply makeup while sitting at a signal. These are moving violators, driving 75 mph while they stick something near their eyes. One quick stop, they’re going to either be blinded or seriously injured. Tell me, is it really worth it?
Level 7: Tour Directors
I’ll admit to being guilty of this on a few occasions. You’re either driving somewhere new and looking at the scenery, or maybe pointing out an important place to someone else in the car. Now, the best way to do this is to take quick glances to the side, while maintaining the proper speed and lane locations. What you DON’T do is stop in the middle of the road with traffic behind you and give a short lecture on the importance of said landmark. I had one of these drivers in front of me just the other day. He stopped in the middle of an intersection with a green light to point to the buildings on the other side of the train tracks. The significance? I have no clue. Perhaps he was pointing to where the body was buried.
You survived! You made it to the best destination of all. Familiar surroundings. Family and pets. Alcohol. The best part? No more driving with all these previously mentioned commuting sinners. Enjoy the safety of your home until you have to venture out onto the road again.
“But wait, oh wise and virtuous author!” you say. “Don’t all these sinners have some sort of punishment? After all, Dante had punishment in HIS purgatory.”
Well, I’ve thought long and hard about how to dole out punishment in this purgatory. All the residents are certainly deserving of it. But isn’t having to commute every day punishment enough? No, you say? Fine. I can understand why you think they deserve harsher sentences. In addition to spending eternity commuting, each time one of these wretched souls commits any of the aforementioned sins, he or she will be zapped with a taser. And just to ensure they are REALLY miserable, they have to listen to the Barney theme song on repeat. I think that alone would scare any commute sinner into an absolute angel.