Questions I Am Often Asked, from the author of Traffickwocky
Every now and again – when I am somehow not stuck on the MoPac – I am asked something like, “Tex, is it stressful being the world’s leading traffic poet? And, while I have you here on my show, does it bother you that there are apparently no other traffic poets in the world?”
To both questions, I say, “No!” I happily accept – nay – embrace this honorable title and this unique place in the world. It’s almost like my very own open, traffic-free lane. You see, no one else seemed to want this role (I Googled it and found nothing) and although I am also the commissioner of a very exclusive fantasy golf league, I must say that my life lacked purpose. Problem solved. I only hope to pass my mantle on to my son someday.
People also sometimes ask me how I can see beauty in something so horrific, so dastardly, so annoyingly cocktail-party-conversation-ish. I guess I can only say that great poets have always been drawn to all that being stuck in traffic so kindly offers each and every day: hope and despair, anger and surprise, long journeys and mundanity. (By the way, I wasn’t sure that “mundanity” was a word, but I was delighted just now to discover that it is.)
Another question I frequently get is, “Why Austin?” This query is completely understandable given the fact that, sure, Austin’s daily congestion is bad, but it pales in comparison to some of the great traffic cities of the world. I will admit that I definitely dream of one day sitting in traffic in Los Angeles, Mexico City, Bangkok or Moscow. In fact, I hear that Brussels and Antwerp are delightfully jammed up and I am rather partial to beers from Belgium. But what attracts me to Austin traffic is that it is so, well…anti-Austin. Like many Austinites, I was sold on the idea that Austin was laid back. I imagined a life of ease, a life in which if I wanted to drive across town to try a new breakfast taco I wouldn’t have to think twice about it. But, of course, I do. We do. We have to think carefully about whether it’s really worthwhile to go this way or that and at what time of the day. This isn’t the Austin I thought I was moving to. So I turned again to traffic poetry, an old friend.
I actually hadn’t written a traffic poem in more than 25 years. In fact, I’d be honored to share with you the first traffic poem I ever wrote. You see, I studied English at a liberal arts college in rural Ohio – a place where my professors walked poetically and puritanically to class. They even had poetic names themselves: Church, Sharp, Crowe Ransom. Stick to the script: follow the greats, they seemed to suggest. Yet I had always been interested in the notion of writing as therapy and poetry as a sort of balm. And so one day, when a farmer’s wagon caused a three-car pile-up, I grabbed my pen and journal:
Hey! Get out of the way!
I need to get to the Future Farmers of America meeting.
Honk! Honk! I was so excited with my creation that I burst into an English department meeting and read it aloud. A few hours later the entire English department knocked rhythmically on my door and politely explained that they would help me move out. They took down my Bob Dylan poster, carefully putting the thumbtacks in a little Ziploc baggie, and then packed my bags. They bought me a bus ticket to Tiffin, Ohio where they had secured a job for me at a well-respected potato chip factory.
So, I managed to finish my degree via a special correspondence course but never forgot that magical moment – when poetry defeated traffic. I didn’t care that part of the literary establishment was so unwilling to recognize the birth of a glorious new literary genre, traffic poetry. (That’s OK – they have yet to fully recognize “chick lit” and although John Green also went to this venerable institution and gave the address at a recent commencement, I am not sure they are fully ready to add “young adult fiction” to the canon.)
And so it is with this therapeutic spirit that I hope you, dear reader, might achieve some measure of healing by reading Traffickwocky. I hope that you are able to vanquish the Traffickwock, a terror that is far more horrifying than the Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, a monstrosity that seems to rule the Austin highways and byways and grow stronger every day. And I hope that you might pause (you have the time!) to write a traffic poem yourself. Just don’t write one that is too good – that might make me and Gridlock (my horse) a little bit jealous.
Happy (Open) Trails,