Five Small Blessings We Wish for in Everyday Houston Traffic

This poor bastard hasn't had one of these blessings bestowed upon him in a while for sure.
This poor bastard hasn't had one of these blessings bestowed upon him in a while for sure. Photo by Doogie Roux
We live in Houston, which means we live with traffic. It's not a matter of avoiding it. There is no such thing. It's mostly about accepting our fate and doing deep breathing exercises (winding up at a bar doesn't hurt either). But, every once in a while, there is a moment of pure joy on Houston roads. It often comes with a bit of serendipity and good timing. When it does, it's like the traffic gods bestowed upon you their highest blessing.

Getting beyond a jumble of cars.

There you are, on a highway where everyone is driving below the speed limit. They are bunched up next to one another because no one is going to line up in the right lane like they should. Then, you see it, an opening. With one quick merge and another lane change you find yourself in open space. You may as well be on an empty stretch of highway in the Mojave Desert. You feel like you could get out, lay down on the freeway and be completely safe. You can't, just to be clear, but that's how it feels and that's how big the buffer is. It's like a buffer made of marshmallows and down comforters, it's so fluffy and perfect.

No one would fault you for lingering a while in that open expanse of road, maybe weaving around a bit. Who is there to stop you? No one, that's who. It's so rare and so precious. Plus, it feels somehow special, like that tiny traffic bubble was made just for you. Then you see the next set of slowpokes ahead of you and your soul shrivels back up to the size of a raisin again.

Finding the perfect alternate route.

Modern driving apps have mostly taken the guesswork out of dealing with traffic, but knowing your way around can never be discounted. This is particularly true when a sudden problem occurs out of nowhere. Your normal route is suddenly blocked by a jackknifed 18-wheeler and you envision the rest of your life spent sleeping in your car, stuck in that same spot of freeway. You don't even have a pillow! Then, you remember a back way and not just any back way, but a secret, magic path that leads to the Houston traffic equivalent of Narnia, complete with Turkish delight and a dude with hooves.

This is tough to find in Houston where EVERY damn driver is looking for a shortcut. In fact, it can lead to an even bigger mess on the side street than on the highway. But, you try it anyway and it's clear. Holy hell, it's clear! You laugh and laugh at all the suckers you left behind. You vow to never tell anyone about the shortcut, not even your significant other. What did that bastard ever do you for you that was worth that kind of knowledge? This is Narnia, for Pete's sake!

Seeing the first signs of construction ending.

A few weeks ago, if you were to travel south down Bingle toward Highway 290, you would have found three lanes of traffic merged into two and a perpetual clog of cars and humanity at all hours of the day and night. This was, naturally, owed to the horrendous transformation of 290 that has been going on lo these seven years hence. Then, suddenly, without any warning, Bingle was three glorious lanes again. Cars breezed along without effort. It felt like there were fewer potholes in the world and that nail in your tire was only there to plug a leak.

The first glimpse of construction ending feels like the first hint of fall. It's been a long, brutal summer. You just want it all to end, whatever that means. Seriously, if the world ended, that might be OK given your state of mind. Then, it happens. That first cool front hits and you remember that you only live in a steam room approximately seven months out of the year. It's downright glorious. So to is the feeling of that vision of long, painful construction wrapping up. You shed a single tear because you know, in Houston, this is a moment worth savoring, like Mardi Gras without beads or alcohol or floats...OK, not like Mardi Gras, but it sure seems like it deserves a parade.

Just missing a traffic jam.

You're on your way home one Sunday morning from, let's say, church, and obviously not still wearing the same clothes you had on last night or anything. Anyhoo, you are headed down the freeway when you see brake lights. You didn't check your traffic app. Why would you? It's Sunday morning. Then you remember that your freeway, like virtually every other freeway in Houston since the dawn of time, is undergoing repairs. Oh, no. Could you be stuck in a crazy Sunday-morning traffic jam when all you want to do is go home and get some sleep...err, clean your house?

Then, you see it...your exit, like a burst of sun through a cloudy sky lighting the way home. It's at least 100 yards before the first car careens to a halt in front of you. You are so happy, you decide to reward yourself with Starbucks since there are four of them within 50 yards of your exit. In the drive thru, you stare at the people on the freeway and say a short prayer of thanks, which is in addition to all the prayers you said in church just a few minutes earlier. Hashtag blessed.

Straight green lights.

Nothing beats the feeling of driving down a long stretch of street with traffic lights nearly every block and hitting them all. And I mean nothing. Not a massage from a literal angel, not a blessing from the Dalai Lama, not sleeping on a massive pile of hundred dollar bills...NOTHING, MAN! These are solid green lights as far as the eye can see. It may as well have been Jesus turning water into wine because red to green in Houston is a freaking miracle.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke