Tag Archives: traffic

Unexpected people

Beggar's dog - Hoboken (LOC)
Library of Congress

I frequent a Starbucks down the street from my work, and so, when traffic traps me by work, I sometimes wait for it to calm down and become reasonable there. Because it’s relatively safe, and the baristas are nice.

But I also hang out there because once the day crowd of lawyers clear out, the most interesting people hang around. And since I don’t like talking to people I don’t know, I make up stories for them.

My favorite person to make up stories for is this older man. I usually pass him outside where he’s generally chatting with another guy over a cigarette. What’s remarkable about him is his appearance. Wiry, gray unruly hair stands out from under a well worn, dusty blue baseball cap. A matching beard of almost unreasonable length masks his chin. His t-shirt and jeans are clean and neat, but have obviously made the trek to Starbucks a time or two. And if you asked most people, I would be willing to bet that they would call him homeless. Because, outside the Starbucks, he matches almost every stereotype we have in the U.S. concerning the appearance of someone whose home lacks 4 walls and a roof.

But then he shuffles in through the door and generally bypasses the free water to take his seat. It’s usually at one of the tables close to the counter. If not, the view is clear. Because his coffee awaits where he’s marked his spot keeping his Dell laptop company. He sits behind the screen and appears to type, though he could be researching because the internet is free.

He’ll stay at the Starbucks for great lengths of time, wandering outside to chat, returning to sit behind his computer. I have no idea what he does, but I imagine he writes his thoughts about being discriminated against for looking poor. Or researching the topic of conversation happening out front, heading back when he’s learned a fact that makes his argument perfect. Or maybe he’s writing a novel about the evening crowd at the Starbucks.

Whatever he does, I’m glad he does it at the Starbucks. He manages to fulfill one stereotype while breaking another. In doing so, he makes the wait for traffic bearable.

Soaring through traffic

traffic flowsDriving to work in Southern California frequently results in more time to think. While I don’t trek through the heart of Los Angeles on the I-5, I do get the joy of sitting on another notorious freeway choke point.

The wide open spaces around the freeway make the drive bearable and offer a good view of hawks, eagles, and vultures soaring. The freeway even skirts a river, which provides a sight-line for the water fowl, like egrets and cormorants.

Watching the hawks soar while I’m sitting in traffic started the inquisition into why there seem to be so many birds of prey gilding around the freeway. Hawk watching afternoon trafficDue to the tin can like nature of the vehicles, the hawks can’t possibly be attracted by a potential food source. Vultures might show up to scavenge off those who quit before they reach their destination, but hawks prefer to hunt.

Upon arrival at home, I looked into what kept the birds soaring over the lost souls on the road for great distances. Turns out that what keeps the birds up is the same thing that helps in the creation of clouds – thermals.

Thermals, in this case, aren’t fashionable undershirts, but are movements in the air based on how the heat radiates from the ground. They are the circular movements of hot air up to the cooler air above. As the warm air rises to cool, hawks (and other birds) ride the current to give their wings a break. Once the warm air cools off, it can cause the clouds you see overhead.

Turns out the terrain explains why there are so many hawks hovering over our cars sitting on the freeway. The wide open spaces provide lots of space for the ground heat to dissipate into the atmosphere, offering numerous free rides to the beautiful predators hanging around.

So I guess traffic doesn’t have to be the bane of my existence after work. (Except for those 1 ½ hour treks).

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