Thursday, January 31, 2013

Want to Avoid "The Traffic?" Leave Later

Leaving early is the worst thing you could ever do at a football game.

My friend, Mark, had invited me to an Indianapolis Colts football game with him, his wife, and their friend, Steve. We rode to the game together, knowing that parking was always a hassle.

This was in 1995, when Jim "Captain Comeback" Harbaugh was the quarterback, and the Colts were having a potential playoff season, their first in years. They were playing the San Diego Chargers, and a win would guarantee a spot in the playoffs. A loss meant they needed to win the following week.

Two minutes to go, fourth down, the score was 24 – 24, and San Diego had the ball. A field goal would get the Chargers into the playoffs. Kicker John Carney was warming up for a 45 yarder.

"Come on, we have to go," said Mark.

"GO?! Are you kidding me?!" I said.

"Yeah, Steve has to go to his family reunion."

"But there's two minutes left in the game, and we need Carney to miss this field goal."

"I can't be late to the family reunion," said Steve's stupid face. "We have to beat The Traffic."

There it was. The two dreaded words that had dogged me since childhood. The reason I missed the end of so many special events.

We had to beat The Traffic.

You know the drill. There's an event that brings in tens of thousands of people. The event ends, everyone leaves at once, and they spend 30 minutes fighting The Traffic.

"You're a grown man. I don't think they'll ground you," I said, but Steve's stupid face was already making his way toward the exit. Mark shrugged an apology.

I lagged behind and tried to catch the last few plays. I managed to hear the groans of 55,000 people as Carney made the field goal, forcing the Colts into a must-win game the following week. (They beat the Chargers in the first round of the playoffs two weeks later, and lost to the Steelers two weeks after that.)

As we walked back to the car, just 60 seconds ahead of The Traffic, I thought about all the other times this had happened.

My parents, and apparently most other parents, had a thing about beating The Traffic. I remember when I was a kid, and my folks would take us to a Cincinnati Reds game at Riverfront Stadium. There we were, basking in my childhood's Graceland, watching the Big Red Machine do their Big Red thing, and my dad would make us leave with one inning to go.

"But the game's not over!" I protested.

"I want to beat The Traffic," said my dad. Sometimes we would leave early enough that I could catch the bottom of the 9th on the radio as we rolled out of the parking lot a few minutes ahead of The Traffic, and I sulked in the back seat.

These days, I have my own issues with The Traffic, and always try to avoid it. But I also remember the frustration of being dragged away from the places that made me happy, so I don't do it to my own kids. Instead, whenever we go somewhere, we always make sure we're one of the last to leave. We wait for an extra 20 minutes, and it saves us so much time and aggravation.

We'll stand, stretch, talk about the game, and chat with new friends. When we finally walk out, there's only a small stream of cars leaving the parking lot, and we cruise right out. We miss The Traffic completely, and still get to see everything we wanted.

A few days ago, I asked on Facebook whether this had ever happened to anyone else. One woman said her boyfriend made her leave a Tom Petty concert early, which is why he's now her ex-boyfriend. Another guy told how he was at a Paul Simon concert, and an older guy in front of him kept yelling "THE BOXER!" at the top of his lungs.

(Because if there's one thing an international music star does at his concerts, it's take crowd requests.)

The old guy finally either got disgusted or wanted to beat The Traffic, and left right after the second encore. And so he missed the third encore, when Paul Simon played "The Boxer."

I'm not a fan of traffic, and try to avoid it whenever possible. But I also refuse to leave anything early, and deprive me or my family the chance to enjoy every second of the experience we were there to see.

Because you never know when John Carney might be lurking in the wings, ready to sing "The Boxer" with Tom Petty.




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