Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Seeing Someone You Know At A Red Light

Awkwardly cliché conversation with one of your parent's friends in the not-so-distant future:

It's not all fun and games like you see in the movies, kids. In real life, situations like that depicted above are awkward, not funny and/or entertaining:

Although at first glance, they seem pretty harmless, traffic lights can cause a variety of awkward situations. The first one occurs when you see someone you know (not a close friend, of course) behind you, stopped at the same red light as you.

Now, most of us feel rude just ignoring someone when we see them. So we have to say hi, otherwise we feel like cowardly dick-heads. It's very difficult to get someone's attention when they're in a car behind you- they can only see your back and their line of vision is warped by the seats and frame of the car. So maybe you honk. Then they think you're just some jackass they've never met who's pissed about the red light taking so long. So you honk and stick your hand out in a sort of backwards wave. There it is. Their frown turns to a smile and they finally recognize you. "Hey Clay!" they mouth. They seem glad to see you. Good, mutual acknowledgment. But now what?

You can't feasibly have a conversation via shouting between cars. So both parties must simply go back to what they were doing which is staring right in front of them, except now with a much more self-conscious demeanor: the person in front knowing his/her every movement might be being watched and the person in back knowing he/she is visible through the person in front's rear view mirror. Most of the times after waving to someone in front or behind me at a traffic light (and of course, knowing Murphy's law it's a really long redlight), I kind of fiddle with the radio volume, despite it not needing fiddling, clean up the passenger seat of my car unnecessarily or look straight ahead as if there's something I'm really focusing on intensely. Because otherwise, if I were to regain eye contact with that person somehow... (*shutter) It's just awkward that you're within 10 feet of each other for a minute straight, in the same situation, yet unable (and perhaps unwilling as well) to talk.

I've had a few situations where I would suddenly release a gallon of air from my lungs as the light miraculously turned green (after what seemed like 3 minutes). Then the next light I would come to would be red and sure enough, good old Bob was still behind me. Oh man, is that really necessary? Why couldn't the light just be green or why couldn't we be going different directions. Or perhaps I was so elated to be leaving him/her that I stuck out my hand waving goodbye as the first light changed. And once again, little did we know, we ended up stuck at another red light together. Now that's pretty brutal because you can't even make one of those jokes about accidently saying goodbye prematurely (because you're not near enough to each other to talk and I'm not very good with sign language). In fact, I avoid these wave goodbyes altogether because in those situations, you really never can be sure when they'll leave you for good.

Sometimes I'd end up driving behind someone I went to school with (but didn't know that well) and we were both on our ways to school. After an initial honking/waving/acknowledging of the coincidence of the situation, we'd just drive the rest of the 10 minutes as if the other person wasn't there (I mean what else could we do?) and then get out of our cars at school and make some joke about how it was crazy we were right behind each other (it wasn't that crazy). At least in that situation you're not gonna try to pull a goodbye too early-on.

Now imagine that same car pulls up alongside you in the other lane at a traffic light. Naturally you make eye contact, conjure up a smile, pull down the window and begin the stop-and-chat conversation (something which will be reviewed later in the blog). So as the conversation begins to wind down and you've both asked how the other's summer has been going, you start to run out of things to say (this is one of those people you really don't have much to talk about with.) In other words, if you had run into each other on the street, at this point you would say, "Alright well I gotta get going!" and head off on your merry way. Except you can't head off on your merry way, because you're stuck at a red light. (Unless, you hate awkwardness so much you're willing to get into an accident to avoid this next moment) So you have two options: cut it short, or force the conversation to continue until the light fortuitously changes and you can blame the "unfortunate" end of the conversation on "those damn beeping cars behind me."

As for me personally, I take the second route, because imagine the first. "Ok well it was great catching up with you Steve! Have a great summer." "You too John." Now you roll up your window and sit there waiting for the red light to change. Heaven forbid you come close to resuming eye contact (unless you're one of those guys who goes for the wave goodbye when the light changes after 15 seconds of silence and not acknowledging each other's presence). You're both thinking the same thing: wow, we just really don't have enough to say to each other to even last a whole red light. In other words, I find the other person so boring, that I would rather sit in the silence of my own company doing nothing but staring ahead and waiting for a light to change, than to continue talking with that person. Wow. That's pretty harsh. And I think, to pretty much openly say that (at least implicitly, by ending the conversation) is dick. I have a theory that a lot of awkwardness can stem from people not wanting to seem like a dick and this is a perfect example of that. Putting up that window after saying goodbye (and perhaps creeping up your car closer to the line to avoid eye contact) is just so shameless, and in a way, dick.