By Chris Jackson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 10, 1997

Hell on Wheels

When I told people last year where I'd be living this fall, they asked me if I was nuts. I laughed and said, "No, I'm not." Then I usually asked why they thought that.

"Dude, you're living so far from campus," he or she would say.

"Don't worry," I replied. "I've got a car. I'll be fine."

For once in my life I wish I'd listened to my friends.

Living seven miles from campus, way up on Oracle Road north of the Tucson Mall, has not been kind to me. Oh, I like the apartment and all, it's a nice, quiet place where I can resurrect my grades from the Sarlacc Pit into which they fell last semester.

But living so far from the UA, I have now experienced something that millions of Americans experience every day: The rush-hour commute

Now, according to Dante, there are nine concentric circles of hell and I figure Tucson is right about at number eight.

Number nine probably includes places like Afghanistan and Rwanda.

It's not that I don't like some things about this city . . . well, OK, other than the UA I don't like anything about Tucson, but that's not the point.

My point: is there any worse city to get around west of the Mississippi and east of Los Angeles?

Why is driving in Tucson so bad? Well, other than the obvious reason that too many people live here (It's the desert. God did not mean for humans to live here.),

Why is Tucson more congested in rush hour than Gerard Depardieu during allergy season?

I wanted answers so I went and asked somebody who knows.

The city government.

"I don't think we do have a major problem," Tucson Traffic Engineering Manager Gary O. Oaks said. "Comparatively, our traffic isn't so bad."

Oaks explained that the big problem with Tucson is that no major interstate or loop road cuts through the city. Thus, the major streets are asked to handle all of the traffic.

"The amount of road building isn't keeping up with the increase in population," Oaks said.

In my opinion, this begs one of two solutions: get people to stop moving here or build more roads. Obviously, the Tucson developers that control the city council aren't about to say "close the city limits!" which leaves us with the other solution.

Or not.

"We can't (build more roads)," Oaks said. "We need dollars. With the amount of money we get from gas taxes and other sources we can barely keep the roads maintained."

Considering the number of potholes I've hit in this city, I can't argue with him.

OK, so there's no hope for elimination of the mess. Thus, I have to live with it. Now, one might ask, what's the problem with that?

Allow me to tell you a little about my daily commute through the eighth circle of hell.

I get up way too early, because this semester the UA schedule-makers decided to screw me. I have nothing but morning classes.

I hop into my car, jam a tape in the radio and then take my life into my own hands as I blast down Oracle Road at the speed of the Millennium Falcon to the tune of Pantera's "The Great Southern Trendkill." Driving in Tucson makes you actually enjoy listening to that song. It would cause most people over the age of 30 to have a seizure.

As I blaze down Oracle, one of the few city streets where people seem to be capable of actually exceeding the speed limit, I hook a left on River, the one other street of excessive speed.

From there, I get to choose one of three streets to drive down to reach our lovely campus: Stone, First or Campbell avenues. This is basically like choosing between watching "Caddyshack II," "Rambo III" or "Men In Black."

I roll the dice and pick one, heading down in the southerly direction of UA. At this point it's pretty much bumper-to-bumper the whole darned way. For reasons I cannot fathom, Tucson drivers have ignored the basic concept of LEFT LANE FAST, RIGHT LANE SLOW. It's a simple concept, one that I really wish they'd learn.

Dennis Miller once said that he didn't give a damn if people came into this country and didn't know our language or our customs, as long as they understood that idea. Once again, Dennis shows us the way.

In Tucson, though, I imagine the favorite comedian of the majority of people here is someone like Tim Conway. Sorry, just had to throw that in.

Back to the journey through the inferno. The only thing remotely stimulating during this bumper-to-bumper time is the challenge of getting out from behind the bus in the right lane. It seems like every day I run into this bus, which is the equivalent of Spaceball-One - a huge, oversized, extremely slow behemoth that blocks traffic. The challenge is to drive in the right lane until you see the bus, then to jump to the left without getting killed by the people in the left lane, who have about as much inclination to let you into their lane as you would if Pauly Shore asked to stay at your house.

It's fun, really, I'm serious. Hey, try doing this everyday. It becomes so monotonous I think I'm going to go braindead one of these mornings.

There are occasional moments of levity. One of my favorites came this one morning when there was a big car wreck in the middle of the Oracle-River intersection. There was a school bus behind me. The driver slowed down as they passed the wreck and pointed at it and all the little kids jumped over to that side of the bus and "oohed" and "aahed." Proof that our obsession with death and destruction starts early.

Commuting, while mind-numbingly boring, was never all that bad, until one dark day back in September.

As I mentioned earlier, I choose between three streets to drive down to reach UA. For most of the year, First avenue seemed to be the logical choice of the trio of evil, seeing as I park in the Main Gate Garage located right off Euclid, which First mutates into south of Grant.

On one bright and cheerful afternoon, after leaving my friend Joe's apartment, I found that the First-Grant intersection had been torn up worse than the desert of Southern Iraq in 1991. It made sense, since that intersection was falling apart faster than the Soviet Union did. What doesn't make sense were the two things that followed: how long it has taken them to repave the intersection, and the reaction of Tucson drivers to the construction.

Acting like a pack of frightened little children, the drivers of Tucson have elected to slow down to the point of absolute zero (where no molecules are actually moving) in order to get across a two or three inch bump in the road caused when half of Grant was repaved and the other half was not.

Now, because this is occurring during rush hour, it makes it nearly impossible to get through the intersection in one red light. The other day it took me seven. Seven. Seven damned red lights. I sat at that intersection, backed up so far I could still see the UA in my rear view mirror, for longer than the entire running time of "Braveheart."

Not to offend any female drivers out there, but I'd just like to say this:


It's a bump. A teeny-tiny little bump. Slow down a little, I mean, I know what hitting a 3 inch bump is like at 40 mph. But don't slow down to the point of where three-toed-sloths are laughing at you.

There, that bit of editorial commentary out of the way, I had to call upon the Tucson road people to find out just how much construction I can anticipate for the remainder of my commuting days.

"There are no plans to do anything to the roads around the university in the next year," Oaks said.


He also told me that there are no plans to rip up any of the three roads I drive down daily. Maybe this is the start of a new day. But maybe this is a new beginning for the daily commute.

I'll let the world know whenever I get through this red light and my tape of Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power and the song "Fucking Hostile" ends.

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