HAPPINESS IS JUST
A SHORTCUT AWAY
When my kids were young, and I had all four of them in
the car going somewhere or other, I distinctly remember when I would
encounter a serious traffic jam on the freeway.
I would give a big sigh, tap my fingers on the steering
wheel, and I could feel the tension rising in the car. I'd crane my neck,
trying to look ahead and see if there was a specific problem. Seeing nothing
but a stack of cars, I'd begin to make my way toward the right lane and the
"NOOOOOOO!!!," they'd scream, practically in
unison. "PLEASE, DADDY, NOT ANOTHER SHORTCUT!!!"
Naturally, I wouldn't listen to the little cowards. Let
them follow the masses, content to sit patiently in line, waiting for their
life to open up in front of them no matter how long it takes.
I would show them a man of action, who takes the bull by
the horns and wrestles his way to the front, waiting for no one. It was a
microcosm of life, and I would show them that I was a leader, not a
So I would invariably get into the exit lane and speed
out of the traffic and onto the exit, feeling the euphoria as I passed all
those non-moving losers on the mis-named "freeway."
"Your shortcuts never work!!!" one of the
ungrateful little children would shout. "It's always a
"At least we're moving," I would calmly reply
as I opened a window and blasted them with some fresh air. "And this
time I've got a plan."
Of course, I actually had no clue. But as an eternal
optimist, I envisioned a side street that had just endured a nuclear war,
with no signs of life and free passage at 45 miles per hour (I'm not greedy
enough to expect 65 miles per hour on a side street).
When the first side street invariably included four
minute traffic lights, which I missed, and bumper to bumper traffic, I would
simply take a side-side street, which would invariably conclude with a
dead-end, and the children would voice their displeasure as I turned around.
"Why can't we be losers like everyone else?"
one of them would sulkily say. "I hate your shortcuts."
Twenty minutes and one exit forward from where we got off
the freeway, I would quietly get back on. The traffic would of course be
moving by then, which would elicit cries of 'I told you so' from the
self-centered little cretins in the back seat.
Now that they've grown, I still haven't decided if taking
ill-advised shortcuts in traffic was a good life lesson or a bad one. I'm a
firm believer in "slow and steady wins the race." But I'm also a
firm believer in "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." My poor kids
were probably thoroughly confused.
Oh, well, that's their problem. I'm a shortcut guy, and
always will be. I just took another one the other day, which prompted these
memories, and my 35 minute ride home took one hour and 20 minutes because I
got caught in a side street gridlock with no way out, a new record for
But I keep doing them, because every great once in
awhile, it works. And what a glorious feeling it is to glide down a side
street, with little or no traffic, knowing those poor, boring "slow and
steady" drivers are idling on the freeway, oblivious to the mover and
shaker who is invisibly speeding by them on a side street.
On those very, very rare occasions when the shortcut is
successful, when I pull back onto the freeway knowing I've saved twenty
minutes of my incredibly valuable life by being aggressive, cunning and
ingenious, I conveniently forget about the 500 hours I wasted over the years
driving down dead ends and waiting at traffic lights while my compatriots on
the freeway inched merrily along, content in their plodding.
I'm not even sure which way I would want my kids to be.
But knowing their experience with me, I can take a good guess which way they