They are Life’s Little Annoyances, the inconveniences too small to be considered serious, yet big enough to make us temporarily insane.
They exist in that murky area between “somebody ought to do something about this!” and “somebody has actually done something about this!”
We each have our own list, tailored to our circumstances. The man who does not wear eyeglasses is spared the misery of not being able to find them, for example.
But there are some LLAs (life’s little annoyances) that are universal.
The checkout lane is the gold standard for LLAs.
The lane you choose is always to slowest, regardless of any strategy you might employ. If there are four people in one lane and just one in another, you choose the shorter lane.
The one customer ahead is you is always a sweet little old lady.
“That will be $6.97,” the clerk tells her. She pulls a five and a single from a wallet filled with bills. Then she goes to her coin purse and slowly assembles the proper coinage. “Is this a nickel or quarter?” she wonders and deliberates for some time before arriving at the correct answer.
Five minutes later, she has accumulated 87 cents only to discover that the coin purse is now empty. So she begins to rummage through the bottomless confines of her purse, pulling out all sorts of items — tissue, keys, lipstick, a screwdriver, a baseball, an oven mitt, a photo album, a Chihuahua — before finally retrieving a dime and plopping it triumphantly on the counter.
“Uh, that’s a Canadian dime, ma’am,” the clerk says, apologetically. She gives up, at last, retrieves another bill from her wallet and gets her three cents change.
Then, just as she is about to leave the counter, a smile bursts onto her face — the sort of smile you imagine Lucifer has when he has collected a fresh soul: “Oh, wait! I have a coupon!”
You look over at the other line, the one you didn’t choose. New people are there and, by new people, I mean people who weren’t even BORN when you entered the store.
If the checkout lane tops the LLA list, traffic lights are a close second.
As we all know, during the first Obama administration traffic lights were re-calibrated to ensure that the light turns red as soon as you have approached, which means you are required to wait as the light goes through its cycles, allowing everybody else to “have their turn” (socialists!) before you can proceed. Based on my unscientific observations, traffic lights have approximately 41 cycles, 10 for each of the directions you are not headed.
That’s bad enough during the day, of course, but it’s especially infuriating late at night when you are facing an ice cream emergency. You sit there at the abandoned intersection, no headlights visible in any direction. You sit there, waiting for 40 more cycles, softly swearing. You are tempted to break the law, but at that moment of decision, headlights emerge in the distance. You are confident it is a cop. So you sit there and fume. (By the way, the oncoming headlights never belong to a cop … unless you run the light).
Someone estimated that the average person spends two weeks of his or her life waiting at traffic lights. Imagine spending your whole year’s worth of vacation sitting at the intersection of Military Road and 18th Avenue.
Pondering this misery, I was curious to know how many traffic lights we have in Columbus. I asked Todd Gale of Columbus Light & Water, whose department maintains the city’s traffic lights.
“Off the top of my head, I’d say we have 15 to 20 traffic lights,” he said. “Most of them are on Highway 45 or 182.”
He must have noted the incredulity in my voice and promised to get back to me with more precise figures.
A few minutes later, he texted me the update: There are 60 traffic lights in town, he said, which is three times more than he first estimated and about 1/10th as many as I assumed there were.
Most of our lights are operated with sensors, which “tell” the light when a car has reached the intersection and triggers the signal-changing mechanism. The problem with that, Gale says, is that these sensors are inserted into the pavement and are subject to wear and tear. Gale said CL&W recently spent $24,000 repairing sensors at eight intersections in town.
If they had had another $3,000, I am sure the light at Military Road and 18th Avenue would have been next on the list.
That’s the way it always works with LLAs, you know.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.