Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fascination of the Abomination.

On my way to work this morning, I was stuck for 20 minutes behind a non-existent accident. I can't trust radio reports of traffic. It always seems that I happen to be in the exact location of a reported accident, but there is never anything there. Sometimes there is traffic, sometimes there isn't. There isn't any consistency for me to do anything about these reports when I hear them. Well, this morning there was a notice on one of those over head light boards that said that there was a crash on the I-215 at 200 North. Due to my lack of trust in the accuracy of traffic notices, I disregarded it and took my normal route to work, on the I-215. At about 1700 North, I was going 15 mph. I was going between 5-10 mph for about 20 minutes. I thought, well, at least I know that once I get to 200 North, it will clear up. I was patient and accepted my punishment for not heading the warning.

Eventually, I got to 200 North, fully expecting to see an accident. If I had waited 20 minutes to get two miles, there had better been something worthy of the hold-up. There was nothing there. No smashed cars. No police or emergency vehicles. No tow-trucks. Nothing. So, why were people going so slowly? Sure, the accident could have been cleared by the time I got there. The only evidence of any accident was tire tracks in the snow on the left shoulder. But still, if there was nothing there, I ask again, why were people going so slowly?

A literature teacher once explained it to me. It is what Joseph Conrad in his book Heart of Darkness called "fascination of the abomination." We've all experienced it. There are a couple of cars on the side of the road, and maybe a police car, but there is no blockage of the lanes, the cars are not impeding the flow of traffic, yet there is still slowing. Why? Because people are fascinated with the misfortune of others. They think that if they slow down enough they will be able to know exactly what happened, how the victims are doing, and whose fault it was. Of course no one can figure that out by just looking. So why bother to slow down? Drive on! I'm sure the people involved don't want people staring at them; they don't want the extra attention. I guess it is just human instinct. Some people are just more fascinated than others.

So, my only two explanations for the delay this morning was that either there was indeed an accident and people slowed down to see it or there was no accident but the sign made people curious so they slowed down anyway hoping to see something. Heaven forbid they should miss it. Whichever the case, there is still no excuse for the back-up. People: Mind your own business and move on!

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