Small Town Traffic Jam

There was a real traffic jam in front of my house today, not a big city sort of jam with cars piled one behind the other, but still way more activity than I generally see in a week or even a month.

A friend and I had gone to what we laughingly call the big city (which is basically another small town but with a few more major stores than we have here). She pulled in front of my house, and as we were hauling my groceries out of her car, UPS pulled in behind her with a package for me. “Only one?” I asked, because the order was supposed to come in two packages. “Only one,” he replied.

As we were having this conversation, the water meter reader pulled up and took the cover off my meter. The UPS guy left, so I went over to the meter reader, smiled and said, “I thought you didn’t have to manually read the meters on this side of the street.” He agreed that normally he didn’t have to, but since my water usage has been trending higher, he needed to make sure there were no leaks. (He said he could tell there were no leaks because no water was running through the meter since everything was turned off.) He ran off to get a different wrench because the one he was using didn’t work, for some reason.

Before I could make it into the house with my groceries, the postal carrier drove up and placed a few pieces of mail in the box. The UPS driver came back with my other package. Then the meter reader came back with a different wrench. Finally, we got the groceries in the house, and my friend left.

Whew! The odds of all that happening at the same time are astronomical. Not that I have an equation to figure out such a thing, but in all the time I have been here, no two deliverers or workers have been here at the same time, and especially not when I had just returned home from a shopping trip. And for all of that to happen at the same time? Amazing.

That wasn’t the only interesting coincidence. Shortly after this traffic jam, I was at the house of the woman I care for, and my next-door neighbor, who apparently just got a job at the tax assessors office, showed up with property assessment forms to make sure they were current for that address and that no major work had been done on the house in the previous year. In itself, it’s not much of a coincidence, I suppose, since this is a such a small town, but I found it interesting that the city employee would stop by shortly after I arrived at the house. And that I knew who he was.

Even more interesting was all that activity in such a short span of time. I know my reaction seems laughable to big city folk because you’re used to real traffic jams (as I once was), but to me, now, it was . . . exhausting.

***

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4 Responses to “Small Town Traffic Jam”

  1. Estragon Says:

    The thing about a big city traffic jam is it’s really pretty predictable. Given a particular physical and environmental condition, a large and increasing volume of traffic tends to form patterns. Individuals within the system might differ widely, but the involvement of large numbers of other individuals in the event, and effects of the system itself assert an almost god-like central tendency of outcomes. Extreme outcomes happen regularly, but people in large scale systems sort of intuitively see the bell curve and recognize the outliers as such. We might not like what happens, but being able to predict it happening can be comforting. That comfort can be a trap though.

    In smaller numbers, the bell curve is less apparent. There aren’t enough samples for us to develop one. Worse (or better), in smaller systems individuals have a higher relative affect on the system itself . The meter reader stopping by might have been a coincidence, or he might have known who you are, what your expected water usage might be given your circumstances, and when you might be home. Your actions influence his, and vice versa.

    My city water usage and meter reading in the city was also wonky, though low. I live alone now, and was away much of the summer. Instead of sending someone, the utility simply didn’t believe my reading and estimated and billed it much higher. It’ll work itself out in due course, but only because the system dictates it must. Other than sending in new actual readings, nothing I do will have much effect.

    In many ways, I think people who aren’t living in systems with readily apparent bell curves viscerally understand the capriciousness of life better than those who do.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      For some reason, this made me think of the lottery. The chances of a particular person winning are close to nil, but the chance of someone winning is close to 100%. So it’s capricious. yet not.

  2. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    Did you tell the meter reader that the usage went up because you were watering the yard more often?


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