Christian Short Stories

For The Love Of Traffic
By Web Ruble

Web Ruble writes: I am a retired newspaper reporter of some 40 years, and a couple of those years I was religion writer at The Oregonian, Oregon's largest daily. Now I am a novelist and short story writer. My wife Norma and I live in Fairview, OR but split our time between there and Tucson, AZ where we are now until about April 15. We are lay leaders and deacons at Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Fairview, OR (near Portland). We also are volunteers on Thursdays about nine months out of the year in a soup kitchen in Gresham, OR.

He obviously was not a camel herder on the road to Damascus. He was looking for dense traffic!

Gilbert was a Christian, but he admitted he did enjoy flirting with trouble as he dodged hordes of the devil's metal horsemen in crushing traffic.


It may sound weird but that's what he said.

Back one summer in the early 1970s when I was working for The Oregonian’s Sunday supplement called Northwest Magazine, I went south about 80 miles to Albany to interview a teacher at Linn-Benton Community College of an unusual program in community planning.

Gilbert Howland (not his real name), who had been on the L-B staff for about two years, agreed to meet me at a certain building at 2 p.m. on the rather new and architecturally functional, campus. It was not far from Interstate 5 – the West Coast’s main artery linking victimized Vancouver, Canada, with drug-terrorized Tijuana, Mexico.

However, one has to understand that Albany, though hard by I-5 and more than 40,000 in population, is not part of the Portland metropolitan area.

Nevertheless, Howland’s planning courses seemed geared for city problems. Surprisingly, the course was remarkable in that it paid considerable attention to zoning conflicts and land-use problems. Howland’s course was something one would expect more at, say, at the center for urban studies at Portland State University.

Nevertheless, it was an important course because it trumpeted Oregon as a leader in statewide land-use planning. That is, every city, county, town, and incorporated municipality in Oregon had to have a comprehensive plan, approved by the state.

What’s more, each corporate municipal entity was duty-bound to follow its plan and corresponding zoning code and map, unless formal efforts – quite often involving beefy hearings -- were made to update and change them.

So when I stopped to think, I determined that it probably wouldn’t matter whether Howland’s course was conducted at one of the public colleges inside or outside the metro area.

With this well tucked into my alleged mind, I anticipated the story would be a no brainer.

I’ll just boogie down to Albany and polish this one off. I am sure Mr. Howland will tell me that right there in the solar plexus of the Willamette Valley that there are intestinal issues just as complex and vexing as in the crowded Portland-Salem Metro Area. Growth in the metro area was putting people of vastly different values on top of one another.

Among those non-urban problems, I mused, might be the issue of field burning and the second issue of protecting slowly disappearing farm land. After more than a half century toiling in the soil, many retiring farmers imagined fortunes that would come from subdividing their land for real estate development.

Getting that done, however, was certain to propel them in conflict with county zoning and planning.

However, Howland had suggested that farm land wasn't the core of his courses. So I soldiered down to Albany to find out. I was in for a sort of disappointment and a complete surprise.

When I got there, we adjourned to Howland’s office which was hardly more than an enlarged cubicle.

I had been counting on some crisp new planning wisdom and unusual stuff that I hadn’t considered. But after about 20 minutes I was disappointed in what I had so far. So I tried prying information in ways I thought more clever and tried to broaden the scope. What I got was humdrum stuff that was terribly predictable.


Wanting a better story, I probed still a little deeper. Finally, some better planning tenants began to emerge.

What I found was that his three courses involved a lot of urban stuff, such as congestion, crowding and incompatible industry mixing with housing. I could see his course was designed for persons who might some day like to tackle problems in a larger community than Albany. For instance, I could see it pertaining more to places like Seattle-Tacoma and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Finally to expand my understanding, I started asking personal questions about his life, family, where he came from, and what his experience had been.

It turns out he was from California, with his B.A. degree from San Jose State, his masters from the UCLA, and with still more graduate work at California state colleges near Los Angeles..

With expectations based on my understanding of Los Angeles refugees: that they loved Oregon because by coming north they had escaped suffocating miles of burbs strung together, smarting eyes from pollution, endless concrete, racial tension, crime and hordes of people.

I proceeded to ask questions as: aren’t you in cultural shock here? Do you like it here? How does Oregon life suit your wife and family?

“Oh yes,” he said, “We like it here – sort of. The college is nice, its people are friendly, they’ve allowed me quite a bit of academic freedom, and the pay and benefits fit our situation.

“But yes, both my wife and I are still somewhat in cultural shock after two years. It rains too much. Folks here complain of heat and smog during August, but they don’t know what true heat and smog is.

"They also complain about traffic. Are you kiddin’? People here are a little too independent and outdoorsy. Either that or they are hokie.

“My wife complained the other day: ‘Everyone here wants to make a farm wife out of me. Well, I’m strictly Hollywood and Vine."

“So to equalize things, we often drive to Portland,” he said nodding.

“Yeah, I’m sure you’re much more used to cultural advantages – plays, concerts, art museums, liberal politics and stuff ,” I offered.

“Well yeah, cultural advantage is part of it, but we miss the traffic. We drive to Portland all the time just to find the traffic.”

“You what?”

"Go Portland. Find the traffic.”

“Traffic? You gotta be kiddin’. Everybody in Portland breaks beaks trying to avoid it.”

“Yeah, they do. But we seek it. 'Tis especially heavy on Friday afternoons, so we leave here early. We try to reach Portland at rush hours – anywhere between 3:30 and 6. Fridays the jams are that much heavier because everybody is trying to get out of town fast for their weekends. We especially like it on the Banfield or on I-5 as it goes north from that double-decker bridge. We really feel plugged in.”

“Banfield. I-5. Plugged in?”

“I know, everybody here thinks we (my wife and myself) are oddballs.”


“Well, we are you know. Besides that, we’re Christian. The way the world is today, who could be more oddball than a Christian? Are you Christian?”

“Er, uhh yes, I’m Christian. But I’ve never considered myself to be . . .”

”Well, YOU ARE an oddball, though. If you’re a true Christian, you are marginalized -- out of the mainstream of American life. Think about it. ”

“Well," I said. "Perhaps we at my church are outside America’s sewer stream, but we kind of find it necessary to be part of American life, too.”

“Oh there’s a way to do that, too,” he said. Like God intended. “Just find the traffic.”

(© 2010 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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