A Poem for Anyone Making a Long Drive with Family Today

A poem about an intimate moment during a long family drive

Seattle: 1953

The traffic lights went green yellow red
down the empty street in front of us
like a small mindlessness captured forever
in the double mirror of a barbershop.

Three in the morning, Dad, good citizen
stopped, waited, looked left, right.
He had been driving nine hundred miles,
had nearly a hundred more to go,
but if there was any impatience
it was only the steady growl of the engine
which could just as easily be called a purr.

I chided him for stopping;
he told me our civilization is founded
on people stopping for lights at three in the morning.
He was in that kind of mood.
My sisters were sprawled asleep in the back,
my mom was nodheaded beside me, lightly snoring.
I saw us all in a city where everyone
had died, traffic lights going on like a kind
of technological hair or fingernails
while Dad tells me about our civilization.
Beside us in a dimly lit laundry
empty suits were hung in rows
with numbers waiting on their sleeves.

–Bruce Hawkins.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

12 thoughts on “A Poem for Anyone Making a Long Drive with Family Today”

  1. Many years ago, at about 3 in the morning, I was in the same situation, and treated a red light as merely a stop sign. From somewhere out of the empty streets, a cop car appeared and gave me a ticket. I have never done it since.

  2. Nice.

    Henry, the odds were good that it was an intersection at which which many people ran that red light (for example, there was a good side view both ways, so that people could safely do that).

    1. Barry, you’re probably right, because I don’t think that I would have gone through it (stopping and looking both ways is not exactly “running” it) if it hadn’t been safe. But, if was safe, then why station a cop there? He could have been out catching marijuana smokers. (That’s a joke.)

      1. I know of two traffic lights, both in small towns, at which the police sit in adjacent parking lots and control the light late at night. They switch it to red as you approach and keep it there until a second car comes to the intersection. I’ve waited over 15 minutes for someone else to come along. It’s a way to raise money.

        1. I wonder if the municipality that funds the police force keeps the money from the tickets. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me, albeit a pretty common one.

          1. I can’t imagine who else but the municipality would keep them. The real conflict would occur if the police department keeps them.

          2. Henry: no real difference if the police get their money from the municipality. Their case for an increase is ‘we bring it in, we should get to spend it’ (for your safety, of course…)

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