When I was younger, I was always fascinated by the idea of living in a house that was on a main road. I thought it would be so cool to be able to step outside and watch cars rush by all the time, instead of only seeing the neighbors drive by slowly like we did at my parents’ home in a suburban development. Whenever we passed a house that had a front porch that was on a busy street, I wanted to move there. My parents thought I was nuts – they knew about the many impracticalities of living directly next to street traffic, like getting in and out of the driveway and hearing the cars all day and night – but I still held onto this weird little dream.
The apartment complex I’m in now is just off of a pretty busy U.S. highway, with two lanes of traffic both ways and a 55mph speed limit. While there is a parking lot and a little bit of landscaping that separates the building from the road, we’re close enough that I can see and hear it from my balcony. This was completely unintentional, though I like to imagine the universe was giving my childhood self a gift. It’s incredibly soothing to me, especially at night – I could easily spend an hour sitting outside, watching the cars go by. In the springtime, when we have the windows open at night, I fall asleep listening to the rhythm of traffic – there are two stoplights lights on either side of the apartment complex, so there will be a stillness when the lights are red, followed by the hum of motors as the lights turn green.
Pinpointing why I’m so enthralled with this has been an interesting examination of myself. I think it stems from my discomfort with both stillness and solitude, or more specifically, isolation. While I do enjoy the quiet noises of nature sometimes, I prefer constant movement or noise, especially in the background. Cars driving by on a constant basis provides exactly this. I like having something to focus on, even when I’m taking time to relax. Watching traffic gives me a passive activity to do while my I sit on the balcony and take in the fresh air.
My preference for observing traffic at night has to do with avoiding isolation. Sometimes, as a night owl, as it gets later and later I start to feel like I’m the only one awake. Yes, I know that there are other people awake at any hour of the day (especially thanks to the internet and having friends in different time zones), but seeing or hearing a car go by at 2am is a physical reminder of that fact. So is passing a house with lights on when I’m coming home late from someone’s house, or seeing a fast food restaurant or store open 24/7, or walking through Times Square in NYC at any ungodly hour, all of which bring me that same peaceful feeling. Put simply, it’s the feeling of knowing I’m not isolated in my experience. I’m not the only human who stays up until 2am sometimes.
Most people would hate to live within earshot of a highway, but I have always cherished it. It’s why I could never live anywhere but the suburbs or a city – the slow, quiet lifestyle in other parts of the country that people find relaxing simply don’t suit me. I need the cliched hustle-and-bustle, the 24/7 reputation, as my reminder that I am never alone.