The 5 stages of sitting in traffic

Man sitting in traffic

Whether you’re on the way to work or taking a trip out to the cottage, traffic is often a fact of life. In fact, the experience of being stuck in a herd of slow-moving cars is so routine, it can be broken down into a few predictable steps. Here are the five stages of sitting in traffic.

1. Denial 

The first stage begins long before you enter your car. With the first trill of your alarm clock, the fantasy begins—your eyes pop open, and you think, “today’s the day!” Visions of empty roads dance in your head, as you imagine trailing your hand blissfully out the window and sailing along the highway. As the traffic report plays while you brew your coffee, you maniacally whistle circus music—anything to block the voice of reason.

After all, you’re leaving on Friday morning. Everyone else is working on Friday. And if they did take Friday off, they left for the cottage on Thursday night, right? Wrong. It’s only once you’ve coasted to a stop and you feel the rising need to pee, that the fantasy dies.

2. Anger

Who are all these people, anyway? Are they really all headed out of the city? And what is the man in the next car putting in his nose?

When these and other increasingly hysterical questions flash through your mind, you will know you are entering the second stage of sitting in traffic: anger. During this stage, you’ll find yourself wishing you were friends with city planners just so you could yell at them—or that you could pull a Mad Max and drive directly overtop every vehicle idling between you and your freedom.

Of course anger is a natural and healthy response to being sandwiched between a pod of Hell’s Angels and an SUV with “Who Let the Dogs Out” blasting on repeat. As you rhythmically pound your forehead into the steering wheel, just try to remind yourself that it’s all part of the path to healing (also known as the woods).

3. Bargaining

By this stage, you’re a broken shell of a human being: dejected, defeated, with barely the strength to push down the accelerator (good thing you don’t need to). But the human spirit is powerful. Even when it’s trampled down, drowned out by the honking of horns, and weakened by waves of exhaust, it still finds a way to hope. For most, this hope manifests as a sudden but powerful belief in the gods of traffic.

If this lane gets moving, you pray, I will start carpooling! As the traffic thickens, you up the ante. If I am allowed to merge, you bargain, I will let the double-stretch limousine full of high school grads go ahead of me! As you grow more desperate, so do your negotiations. Soon, you’re pledging to pick up hitchhikers, switch to bio-diesel, and spearhead a “clean up our roadways” program. But when a vow to donate your car to an organ donors program goes unanswered, you may come to the conclusion that the gods of traffic are cruel, fickle, or, worst of all, nonexistent.

4. Depression

There’s a saying that life is not about the destination but the journey. Unfortunately, sometimes the journey involves sitting on the highway as your legs get sealed to your car seat with sweat, and when that happens, you will likely find yourself sinking into the morass of despair.

Is the outdoors really that great? Why go on? you may find yourself asking. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Your dull lethargy actually makes you an ideal driver in these conditions: you drag yourself forward inch by inch, thinking sadly of the years of human evolution and ingenuity that have led to this very traffic jam. After millennia of scientific advancement, humankind invented the automobile—and yet we’re still the only creatures on earth that get stuck on a commute. As you look through your bug-splattered front window, you may even find yourself envying those insects that met their fate at your windshield. They may have died on the highway, but they died free.

5. Acceptance 

The road to acceptance is nearly as difficult to navigate as your traffic-clogged commute. But after riding a roller coaster of emotions (and moving what feels like 12 feet down the blacktop), you finally find yourself accepting the reality of the situation. Yes, you are simply one small piece of a miles-long automotive centipede. Yes, you are trapped in a giant cloud of exhaust and noise. Yes, that person in front of you is making sandwiches while driving.

But after going through the rage and despair, you finally realize you may as well make the best of it. Once you have accepted your fate, it’s time to find to find the perfect station on your satellite radio and just enjoy your time to relax with a hot cup of joe in hand. Before you know it, you’ll be doing the same the very same on the dock—except your view will be the sun coming over a calm lake covered in mist instead of never-ending asphalt, and the sound of hocking cars—replaced by loon calls—will be nothing but a distant memory.