If you, like me, are in the habit of following all the breaking news in the world of astrophysics, you might have been captivated by a recent exhilarating discovery, the kind that makes nerds like me drop our twenty-sided die to the floor. Basically, astronomers using NASA’s Kepler space telescope stumbled on what might be an “alien megastructure” somewhere near a star called “KIC 8462852.” Without getting too technical, it has something to do with an interruption of light that astrophysicists think might indicate planet-sized structures that are harnessing the star’s energy. For the geeks at SETI, and for armchair astronomers worldwide, this is mind-boggling stuff.
But, you ask, what on earth — or in the universe, rather — does any of this have to do with New Orleans? I’ll give you my theory, and I promise it’s not entirely crazy. In a nutshell, it has everything to do with traffic.
Stay with me here.
Driving the streets of New Orleans has never been what one might call a “pleasurable experience,” at least not in the nearly four decades I’ve called the Crescent City home. Sure, there was a time when you could take a leisurely cruise along the lakefront in your sedan, your honey snuggled up next to you on a bench seat and the dulcet tones of Pete Fountain wafting from the AM radio. But those days, sadly, are long behind us. These days, being behind the wheel of a car in New Orleans — or even a bicycle — has become a kind of real-life Maze Runner reality show, with drivers trying to find their way out of one dead-end outlet or another.
We’re left to wonder how and why things got so bad, so decidedly murderous on the road, so quickly.
I blame the aliens.
Okay, so it might or might not be the work of extraterrestrials in a megastructure orbiting the star KIC 8462852, but I have no doubt that whatever malevolence has gripped the traffic situation in New Orleans is at the hands of nefarious little green men (or whatever they use as hands — I am sadly not an expert in the field of xenobiology). I am convinced that these sneaky alien suckers are conducting an elaborate psycho-social experiment in which New Orleans is the maze, and we are the rats.
Let us consider the evidence.
First, we have the basic state of the city’s streets, which have more in common with post-war Berlin than any modern metropolis, where one could conceivably drive from point A to point B without falling into an unmarked hole the size of Wisconsin. Ask a New Orleanian what the worst thing about their hometown is, and the first response will undoubtedly be the crime. A close second? Potholes. We have potholes in the Big Easy large enough to swallow a mid-sized sedan, probably one of the reasons that people here drive SUVs. With four-wheel drive. And does the city actually fix these soul and automobile-devouring chasms which, for all we know, have no discernible bottom but rather follow an uninterrupted path to the opposite side of the planet? Ha! As the old timers will tell you: That’ll be the day.
Just because no one seems to be fixing the potholes doesn’t mean that there isn’t some very serious road construction going on in this city. Quite the opposite, in fact. There’s so much work consuming the streets of New Orleans, you’d think that we were at the dawn of a new civilization, one that promises safe, clean, smooth driving for one and all. And, naturally, one would be entirely wrong. All of that heavy machinery, the blocked off streets, the torn up streetcar tracks, the decimated neutral grounds, the constant and inescapable aroma of diesel fumes and hot tar, is supposed to have something to do with improving the drainage situation in the city. But I’m not buying it. It’s aliens, I’m telling you.
After all, consider what kind of logic (or lack thereof) might be at play here. Why would the city decide to completely decimate a major thoroughfare like Napoleon Avenue, and then move along to decimate two or three other comparable, parallel-oriented streets — Jefferson, Louisiana, et cetera — at the exact same time? In what world would that possibly make any sense? None, that’s what. It’s those extraterrestrial buggers trying to get a rise out of us and charting the levels of our apoplexy, I’m telling you.
And that’s only where it starts. Just when you thought you might have a handle on which streets might be wantonly torn up at a given time, and that you might actually have a decent route planned around the nonsensical road destruction between you and your home or place of work, everything changes at the drop of a hat. Hoping to take one road to bypass the horrifying traffic on another? Sorry, sucker, the aliens just decided to put a six-story piece of machinery in the middle of that street. And good luck getting around it, because of all the one-way streets around here, which, I’ll also note, seem to change on a daily basis according to no discernible rhyme or reason. Sometimes a harrowingly narrow one-way will suddenly accept traffic from both directions, which of course leads you to play that wonderful game we all know and love called “New Orleans chicken,” forcing you to test your mettle in the midst of rush-hour traffic by seeing who turns first, you or the red-faced man in the 4×4 covered in NRA bumper stickers with steam visibly jetting from his ears. And then the aliens say, “hmm, that was interesting,” and note both of your reactions in their log for future analysis.
Seriously, this is the best explanation I can come up with. Because anything else is just so mind-bogglingly asinine. It must be the work of aliens, because the alternative — that human beings are behind this — is so profoundly infuriating, just thinking about it nearly makes me blow my top. And then, once my traffic-induced rage has subsided and I regain my cool, I am reminded that no matter how bad things get on the road, I still get to live in New Orleans, where the po-boys are plentiful, the beer is cold, the music is hot, and Mardi Gras is just around the corner.
This, above all, must be abundantly fascinating to our alien overseers. And hey, fellas? If you ever decide to stop by in person, the first round of Sazeracs is on me. Then maybe we can talk about this pothole situation. Right?