New Castle News

November 11, 2013

Lisa Madras: I know it’s crazy, but I light up when traffic flows downhill

Lisa Madras
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Do you ever celebrate the green lights?

If you've lived in New Castle for even one day, you know we have more than our fair share of traffic lights. I'm all for safety, believe me, but come on, some of those lights are bit ridiculous. In fact, there was one in the middle of nowhere that I got stuck at every morning on the way to work.  They took it down (yee-haw!) about a year ago, but until then, I called it "the punishment light."

It took on that name in my mind because I would sit there each morning, listening to the birds chirp, waiting patiently for exactly zero cars to come down the road from any given direction. When it was my turn to go, I would go, thinking about how much time I'd lost for precisely nothing.  No reason. So glad I had to wait for nobody.

Life is like that punishment light a lot of times. You have to do things that make no sense, put up with things that you shouldn't have to, and get punished for things you didn't do wrong,  all while slapping a bright, happy smile on your face. Yep, life is a lot like a traffic light. Hurry up and wait. Sit here and fume. Waste another minute that could be spent doing something constructive or fun, like discovering a new gene or eating a chocolate chip cookie.

The average person spends about two to three years over their lifetime sitting at red lights. Isn't that a crazy thought? That's a lot of wasted potential chocolate chip cookie moments. I have to say, though, that whoever did that research (how do I get a job like that, by the way?) never enjoyed the view of our fine city from atop the Jefferson Street hill. We're talking more like five to six years here, people.

The truth is, this is one my favorite places to sit in traffic, especially at night. It's like being at the top of a roller coaster and looking down at thousands of twinkling lights below you.

Nine of those are traffic lights.

Within the space of less than half a mile.

The good news is that the lights are timed well. If you hit the red light at the very top of the hill, you can get through all nine before the signals change again. That, of course, is dependent on traffic and weather conditions.

So my kids and I have made a game out of the Jefferson Street lights. How many can we get through before they turn red again? As we go underneath each light, the three of us shout out the light number as if we're counting down for the ball drop on New Year's Eve. It's ridiculous, really, and we all act as if someone kicked our puppy if we don't get all the way to nine. Conversely, if we make it straight through to the South Side, we act as though we just scratched off a winning lottery ticket.

The point is, I've noticed that since we started doing that, I tend to whisper a subdued "woo-hoo" and do a little jiggedy dance in the seat of my car every time I go through a green light without having to stop first, even if I'm the only one in the car.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of a green light in his novel, "The Great Gatsby." He spoke of "a single green light, minute and far away." To Gatsby, that light symbolized how far away he was from his goals. Could it be that that's how we view traffic lights — as a representation of the things keeping us from our goals as well? Who knows? Perhaps I just read far too much into everything. (I have been accused of that, once or twice.)

But regardless of what those lights mean to us (symbols of bigger things to the over-thinkers like me, or simply just a traffic light to the much more normal people of the world) would it kill us to spend a little time celebrating the green lights instead of cursing at the red ones?

If you want to try it out, I know just where you can find a nice, long line of them.

And besides, I don't want to be the only one doing the jiggedy dance in my car.