The smiling green mouth blinks off, replaced by the yellow nose. I squish the brake pedal to bring my truck to a quick halt on South Camino del Rio, killing my momentum as the red eye stares down.
As pretty as traffic lights are, Ive seen them before, and there are better things to do than idle and wait for the mouth to come back alive. Im headed toward that dreaded condition known as impatience.
But most of the time I catch myself before cursing the addition of multiple controlled intersections in the 20 years Ive called Southwest Colorado home.
Heading east from town once was a breeze. Lights at Santa Rita Drive, County Road 211 in Bodo, Colorado Highway 3, Dominguez Drive, River Road, Farmington Hill and Three Springs Boulevard none existed in 1990.
I catch myself because of where I am. And where Im not.
Where I am: A relatively unspoiled landscape in a lightly populated part of the globe, with a mountain view never far away.
Where Im not: Commuting through the arteries of a big city. During a summer road trip, my nightmare memory is trolling the Beltway Interstate 495 around Washington, D.C. The panoramic view was a solid mass of slow-moving vehicles 10 lanes wide. A glacier of creeping, human-filled metal.
I experienced firsthand the I-495 interchange with I-270, in Maryland just northwest of D.C., where a quarter-million cars pass through daily. On one list, its the third-worst bottleneck in America. Were this interchange in your heart, you would require an emergency angioplasty.
But back to where I am:
b A small city with usually clean air. Traffic problems are minor inconveniences instead of a time-consuming lifestyle.
b A place where hobbies, diet and even conversation trend toward being health-oriented.
As my friend put it after a trip to the Baltimore area, Back East, the conversation invariably revolves around where you live and what you eat, whereas here it trends toward where youve been and what you do.
To put it another way, we generally boast not about the size of our house and the extravagance of our meals, but about the size of our adventures and the extravagance of our exploits. Perhaps no less the braggadocios as our Atlantic seaboard countrymen, were certainly healthier in attitude and body.
b Im in a community that values the out-of-doors. Seems to me that the typical big-city dweller treats the outdoors as a nuisance, a place you hurry through to get from your car to your home or office.
b Its the Goldilocks-sized place. True, theres no surplus of shopping, nightlife and pro sports, but were big enough to provide most necessary goods and services, small enough to keep people honest. In other words, if youre a jerk, everyone finds out about it. (So, sorry, I apologize for those times Ive been a jerk.)
b Its not always this way, but Durango often feels like that proverbial village in which we all chip in to help those in need, or to raise a child, or to gossip about those whove gone round the bend, or whatever.
b We live closer to the Earth than the average American, so we better notice and comprehend our actions on the environment. Harder to understand cause-and-effect in a concrete-splattered city.
b Dont spread this around, but Im in arguably one of the best spots in the world.
So here I am still at the traffic light, waiting for the stupid thing to change. Judging by the length of this column, Ive had a lot of time to think between red and green.
Thats OK. Durango isnt paradise. Not quite.
And I hear a voice from the past. Its that guy on the Beltway (me, then) talking to the guy on Camino del Rio (me, now):
Hey numbskull, you have a short memory. I mean, you call this a bottleneck? Get real.
johnp@ durangoherald.com John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.