Cumberland Times-News

Columns

November 16, 2013

We’ve got something here, but don’t know it

Although I spent much of my youth playing pinball machines, I’ve never had much use for video games.

I played Space Invaders for the first and only time at a party in 1980 and recall that it was boring and repetitive, and the controls reacted too slowly for my liking.

It wasn’t nearly as much fun as a pinball machine that has flippers, flashing lights, bells and other sound effects.

When my girlfriend asked what I thought of Space Invaders, I replied: “This is what we’re going to use to train our next generation of combat troops.”

That was 30-some years ago. Well, guess what? Doesn’t make me a genius with extraordinary foresight. If you predict enough things, you’re bound to get something right.

Video games have advanced to the place where you wonder what their future holds, but I still have no interest in them.

Reality is challenging enough, and each day reality plunges me for a few moments into a situation that requires me to be acutely aware of what’s going on and react to it instantly in the right way ... or else.

It’s like being in the middle of a video game in which I am surrounded by other game-players who have their own controls.

Although it’s a source of irritation to all who must contend with it, I think we could turn it to our advantage. It cost the taxpayers of Maryland a ton of money, but we might be able to profit from it. Allow me to explain:

You ever watch “Top Gear” on the History Channel? Adam (the wrecker), Rutledge (the expert) and Tanner (the driver) take part each week in automotive competitions that defy both description and good sense. It looks like fun.

Plus, they get to drive cars like Lambos, Ferraris and GT-40 Fords that would induce heart palpitations in any motorhead who gets close enough to see them and hear the sounds they make.

One week they had to turn three old cars into boats and race them 20-some miles across one of the Great Lakes. Two boats sank, but one made it across, only to be impounded by Canadian police.

Let’s see if we can get the Top Gear guys to come to Allegany County!

The challenge course I would set up for them is faced each day by thousands of people, including me, and here’s how it works:

You’re driving northbound on U.S. Route 220, approaching the city limits of Cumberland. Up ahead, you see the bridge that carries other traffic eastbound on Interstate 68.

To the right, a huge sign proclaims “New Traffic Pattern ... Yield To Traffic On Left.”

Next comes a smaller sign on which several curved arrows are shown following each other in a circle, much like a dog chases its tail.

Gamers know this is a “roundabout” sign ... only it’s not a roundabout, because you don’t go ‘round. It’s what a lady friend of mine calls “the stupid-about.” (Everyone I’ve told agrees with her. It is a stupid-about.)

The next sign tells you there’s a yield sign ahead, and then there’s the YIELD sign itself.

You look to see if any traffic is coming from the left ... but now you’re topping a little rise and realize that you must swerve to the right to avoid driving over a big apron that sticks out into traffic like a gigantic hernia.

Almost immediately, you have to choose between turning left to go down Greene Street into Cumberland or turning right to go up a ramp that takes you to eastbound I-68. (There are plenty of signs telling you how to get onto the interstate.)

All this comes at you NOW! You don’t have time to think! All you can do is react!

Southbound traffic that’s running parallel to the northbound traffic is passing through what I call the “question mark-about” because it’s shaped like a question mark.

This, too, is preceded by a roundabout sign ... but right on its heels is a second sign that shows the route’s actual shape (which looks nothing like a roundabout), and there’s no time to think about this, either.

As you enter the question mark-about, you zig to the left, then zig to the right before entering a sharp left turn — trucks going through this invariably drive across another apron — at the end of which you are confronted by a fork in the road.

There, you have two options: (1) Turn right and go south on Route 220 or (2) Turn left and cut across northbound traffic, which has to yield to you in the middle of the stupid-about, so you can take the ramp to I-68 East. Presumably you don’t want to go down Greene Street and return to Cumberland, which you just left.

At the same time, traffic may be coming down the hill from your right on the exit ramp off eastbound I-68. These cars must yield to southbound traffic in the middle of the question mark-about. (At least you hope they do; it’s a steep, brake-testing hill.)

Then they have two choices: turn south on Route 220 or go straight through the stupid-about and turn left to drive into Cumberland on Greene Street, in which case northbound traffic has to yield to them. Having just left I-68, they probably won’t want to go up the ramp to get back on it, but you never know.

I can see the Top Gear guys making a race out of this. People from around here would volunteer in droves to drive cars that do nothing but get in their way. I’d do it.

Enough traffic options exist in the area — turnarounds can be staged in the Park-and-Ride coming into town or the intersection at the bottom of Dingle Hill — that each lap would be different. One would travel up Braddock Road, then go on Vocke Road to I-68 eastbound, from which drivers will take the exit ramp down to the question mark/stupid-about.

People will freak out when they see this on TV, and that’s when we introduce “Mortal Stupid-About” ... the video game!

I hearby convey the idea without restriction to the citizens of Allegany County. Make it, market it and rake in the big bucks.

All I ask is that you take me across the street and buy me a beer and a slice or two of pizza now and then.

——————

If you are confused by my description of what it takes to maneuver through the stupid-about and the question mark-about, I don’t blame you.

Writing it has given me a headache ... and I still have to confront the question mark-about on my way home.

Most likely, I will have a drink when I get there.

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