Monday, September 19, 2005

Blocking Central

Ever notice how a car will pull out in front of you in traffic at the most inconvenient moment, and then block you and slow you down until you're about to go crazy? Well, for years I've entertained a paranoid little fantasy about what's really going on.

The hidden truth is, such traffic snafus are part of a vast conspiracy by a secret organization called Blocking Central.

Blocking Central
I envision the headquarters of Blocking Central as looking sort of like the tracking center in the old 1960s Patrick McGoohan TV series, The Prisoner. People seated at control panels, maps projected on wall screens, two dudes riding a rotating videocam teeter-totter; and the commander of Blocking Central, standing there and dictating orders into his retro-60s cordless phone:

—"Yes, we're tracking the motorist on Highway 76. Have a vehicle ready to pull out in front of him at the intersection with county road A26. Estimated time of arrival, 30 seconds..."

Sure enough, just in the nick of time, that car (driven by an agent of Blocking Central) pulls right out in front of you. You have to slow down because he sure... isn't... going very fast. In fact, he's going pretty damn slow for a state highway.

—"Now, have our vehicle maintain a speed of no more than 43 miles an hour. I repeat, no more than 43 miles an hour. This is critical, we must slow the motorist down. And under no circumstances permit the motorist to pass!"

Damn! Why is that car ahead of you moving so slow?! It's doing just barely over forty! On an open highway, yet. And there's no way to get past that idiot. But wait... coming up is a passing zone...

—"All right, dispatch another vehicle up ahead, in oncoming traffic. We need a vehicle in oncoming traffic to prevent the motorist from passing in the upcoming passing zone. Yes, the computer will handle the timing on that one..."

At Blocking Central, a giant retro-60s mainframe computer with blinking lights and whirling tape reels calculates the precise timing. A roadmap projected on a large wall screen displays your location on the highway. Sure enough, just as you round the curve and sight the passing zone, you notice an oncoming car in the distance. Just at the wrong moment so that you won't be able to pass!

—"Motorist is now approaching a town, speed limit of 25. Have another vehicle ready to dispatch in front of him. Yes, at the corner of Elm Street. Good."

As you come up on the small town, the Blocking Central car ahead of you slows down, from 43 to 40. Yes, this is one of the weaknesses of Blocking Central drivers that I've never quite understood: if they dawdle along at 43 mph on a highway where the speed limit is 55, when they come to a town they'll only just barely slow down, and they'll go barreling right through a 25 mph residential area at about 40 miles an hour. "Slowgan on the highway is a speedster in town."

So the gap widens between you and the car ahead of you. But no problem, Blocking Central has another car ready to pull out in front of you, and this one is driven by a little old blue haired lady who drives all of 12 miles an hour, slowing down to less than 10 in reaction to any traffic, real or imagined. At the only stop light in town, she signals to make a left turn, and then when the light turns green, she inexplicably sits and waits ("Come on, lady, make the turn, already!!") until the light turns yellow again. Then slowly she turns, leaving you to wait through a second red light.

Now you're almost out of town, but Blocking Central isn't out of tricks yet.

"Okay, we need to position a stationary vehicle on the roadway, before the edge of town. Yes, a stationary vehicle, with an attendant pedestrian in conversation."

What's this?! A pickup truck, just sitting there on the road ahead of you. Oh, okay, the driver's talking out the window with some guy who's standing there. But why doesn't he move? Can't he see he's holding up traffic?

(Holding up traffic? But dear reader, that's precisely the point of Blocking Central...)

Finally the pickup tools off down the road. Right at the edge of town, another car almost turns out ahead of you, but you're already accelerating back up to highway speed, and you manage to slip by before he can pull out in front and block you.

"Status report! Our vehicle at the edge of town failed to intercept the motorist! Have backup vehicles ready at the intersection with South 298th Street. He will be there in less than a minute. He must not elude us again!"

In the distance, you see a procession of four cars turning onto the highway ahead of you. You soon close the gap. Now you're sunk: This knot of cars isn't going a bit over 50. No way you're going to get past them.

At Blocking Central, the commander speaks in clipped, authoritative tones into his phone:

"Very good. The motorist will now have no opportunity to get past our vehicles, anywhere this side of Cedar Falls. There is one extended passing zone on a straightaway, 23.6 miles ahead: if necessary to prevent him from passing, you may speed up to 60 or even 65 when you come to that stretch. But otherwise you are not to exceed 50 miles per hour. Blocking Central, out."

In recent years I've noticed that Blocking Central is diversifying its activities. It now also provides tailgaters to hang on your rear bumper for miles on end, even when you're doing 70. And I've also noticed agents of Blocking Central in the supermarket, spending a full ten minutes comparing packages of hamburger and blocking the meat department, or positioning a shopping cart sideways across the aisle like a roadblock.

Whilst out on the road, another car pulls out at the worst possible moment, and boxes you in. Thousands of vehicles at the ready. A vast computerized surveillance and tracking system. No, you cannot escape the insidious reach of Blocking Central...


Blogger The Tetrast said...

Have you read any novels by Hubert Selby (Last Exit to Brooklyn, The Demon, etc.)? He writes often about harsh worlds, but also has quite a few comic passages about a given character's small turns of bad luck that "just hadda happen," it just couldn't be any other way, like it was an insanely petty decree of fate or some Block Central like the one which you describe.

Monday, September 19, 2005 3:55:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Tetrast, no, I'm afraid I haven't read anything by Selby. Perhaps I should look into him. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 8:16:00 AM  
Blogger Kaushik said...

Well, the thing is that it may not be just traffic, but everything that's a conspiracy controlled by some agency somewhere.

Take for example multiple queues. The queue you're in moves slowly, while the one next to you moves fast. If you shift to the other queue, invariably, the one you just left begins to move fast, while the one you just shifted to slows down. Now could all the people in these queues be agents of some kind, monitoring your every move and varying the amount of time they take at the front end of the queue depending on which one you're in?


Sunday, September 25, 2005 12:15:00 PM  

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