Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cloudy with a Chance of Barricades

I certainly don't have more errands to run than the next person, but I do try to pile them all up onto one day and then see how efficiently I can tailor my driving to get them all accomplished within the shortest amount of time and using the fewest number of trips.

This is partly spurred on by my natural tendency towards hermeticism but is equally motivated by eco- guilt.   I address my despair surrounding a hopeless dependency upon driving in part with an ongoing effort to hold trips in the car to a minimum.

This particular gambit also appeals because it renders errand running into something a little more like fun.  Challenging myself with working the "highest number of errands with the lowest number of trips" puzzle feels a lot less mind numbing than simply ticking the minutiae off my "to-do" list.

Sometimes the weather cooperates with my efficiency game, yesterday it presented as a bit of an adversary.  The natural factor of errand running is the requisite going in and out of the elements. It all gets complicated by degrees if there is rain in the forecast, ever so much more so when there are predictions for enough rain to flood the usual low water suspects.

Our forecast yesterday included chances for both.  My little subdivision out here West of Austin is occasionally closed off if it rains hard enough to outstrip normal drainage potential.  I'm not afraid to get wet but I had packages to mail I wanted to keep dry and getting stuck on the wrong side of a low water crossing from my house yesterday was not an acceptable option.

Enter the internet.  Before I left to make a sweep through all my "to-dos" it was only prudent that I check radar maps first to see how the cloud cover and approaching storms were shaping up.
While I was paying close attention to the weather, I was admittedly relatively inattentive to the rest of our local news.  BIG mistake.  More on that in a moment.

The radar maps looked pretty clear.  Everything threatening was firing up to the East and moving North.  So far so good.  I piled my packages and double checked my list.  I made sure I had my umbrella and pulled out of the driveway, filled with anticipatory good cheer.

Heading out of my neighborhood, as I was approaching the intersection that accesses the nearest major thoroughfare, a long line of trucks and cars made it obvious traffic was backed up as the result of some monumental snarl.  I sat in traffic through two light cycles, watching as less patient drivers ahead of and behind me U-turned their way out of line.  Eventually I reached a vantage point where I could begin to assess the situation.

To either side I spotted a constellation of emergency lights flashing atop a variety of police, sheriff's department and highway patrol cars blocking not only the main road but also every intersection as far as the eye could see.  In addition to the cars there were motorcycle police scattered everywhere in such great numbers it triggered the creeping realization that something extraordinary had, or worse yet, was still happening.

In the past I've not only read about but have seen with my own eyes terrible accidents on this particular road involving multiple vehicles at several of these same intersections. Traffic is heavy, speeding is common and the road can be dangerous when wet.  I've also seen the road blocked off for lengthy funeral processions involving locally important and well loved community figures.

But I've never personally witnessed anything like the convergence of law enforcement laid out in front of me yesterday afternoon.  It was starkly suggestive of disasters and tragedies on a national scope that I've only ever watched play out on television.

Frankly my imagination went into overdrive.  Early voting was going on in the grocery store I could see but not yet reach by car.  There is both an elementary and a middle school close by.  Was there some sort of bomb threat?  Plane crash?  Gunman with hostages?  I could only begin to guess what would require so many different agencies to be on site redirecting traffic away from such a large area.

Fighting a mounting sense of dread I finally made my way across the road and hurried into my neighborhood Post Office.  Once inside a relaxed and cheerful postal clerk glanced up from her work at the counter and allayed all my fears with one chipper observation.

"Well - there goes the motorcade, I guess Mr.  Biden is heading back downtown!".

No tragedy was playing out at all.  Quite the opposite in fact.  The roads were all barricaded to allow free passage of both the current Vice President, and Law and Order:SVU actress Mariska Hargitay, all headed back towards Austin on the return trip after a visit paid to the locally housed National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Folks waiting alongside me in line at the Post Office, upon hearing who was involved and what was behind the inconvenience interfering with their collective afternoons, shared their disapproval the Veep's travel protocol didn't have him helicopter out the same way he arrived, attributing this "obvious waste of tax dollars" to "what is wrong with our country in the first place".

Flashing back to the worst late autumn afternoon of my life in November of 1963, I attempted to remind my fellow post office patrons, some of whom were too young to recall and others who potentially are not natives, that as Texans we ought never ever begrudge doing whatever it might take to keep another national figure from being struck down while visiting in our midst.

Thinking about this later I questioned if perhaps we must forgive some naivete on the part of residents living so far away from the corridors of authority.  Not everyone is accustomed to the necessary inconvenience that travels in proximity to power.

On the other hand, those of us who were living in Texas in November of 1963 and more specifically those of us who lived here in Austin throughout the following 6 years while presidential motorcades and helicopter convoys routinely traveled back and forth between the Austin municipal airport and the LBJ Ranch?  Well, we are accustomed.  We remember all too well not only what those precautions are like but also the deeply sorrowful circumstances underneath why they became a necessity.

For the record, once the Vice President and his entourage safely exited the area, traffic quickly returned to normal (perhaps minus the usual flaunting of speed limits).

Despite my extra time stuck in traffic I found it encouraging local officials carried forward with the necessary commitment to do whatever was needed to protect the Vice President and our other prestigious visitors.  I was profoundly relieved and grateful that overwhelming law enforcement presence was there merely as a precautionary measure and not in response to some calamity involving loss of life or property.

My errands will wait.


Tina said...

You know, I got caught in that same traffic the last time Biden was in town. I don't live near there, but was on my way back into Austin when everything came to a halt. I sat there about an hour before I got to see the limo and its little flags. I avoided that this time though and stayed in north central Austin.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: That is a long stretch to be stuck in your car. Times like that are when I begin to understand the dependence on/fascination with smart phones.

Any aggravation I experience sitting in stopped traffic typically comes when I have no idea what is going on (a state I spend far too much time in some might say..). Whenever I understand the cause for a jam I might not like it, but at least I typically understand the need.