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629: Expect Delays

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Prologue

Ira Glass

A couple months ago, I got into a plane in San Diego. It was an overnight flight on JetBlue. And like everybody on the plane, I was anxious to get to sleep, right? And some people sat down and closed their eyes. And up at the front of the plane, a member of the crew kind of leaned on the bulkhead like a loiterer leaning on a lamppost and got on the PA.

Anne Aldrich

Good evening, folks. How's everybody doing tonight? Awesome, I hope.

Ira Glass

This recording was actually made by one of my coworkers, Lilly Sullivan, a few weeks later. She was on the same exact flight, and the same crew member gave the same speech, and Lilly recorded it. But really, what gets said is almost word for word the same as I heard.

Anne Aldrich

My name is Anne, you guys. And I was just out walking around the airplane, and they're throwing the last of your-- I mean, um, I'm sorry about that. I didn't mean to say throwing. I used to work over at American, you know. Old habits die hard. So what I meant to say was, they were lovingly and gently placing your bags in the lower belly, and then we'll be pushing back from the gate on time.

Ira Glass

The night I was there, everybody was like, what is this? Like, was that a joke? Was she just mocking another airline, American Airlines? We were like drowsy kittens waking up to the fact that, oh, something was going on.

Anne Aldrich

But you know what the really good news is, you guys? I'm going to be your pilot flying to New York tonight.

[CHEERING]

I know. Isn't that awesome? I know. Thank you. Thank you. I know. I just graduated pilot training yesterday and I'm very excited for my first flight tonight. I'm just kidding. I've been flying airplanes since I was 17. Can you believe that? I know. These last two years have been very exciting, so. That wasn't that funny.

Ira Glass

OK. She's not the greatest comedian, but there was something about her swagger, like her sheer joy in what she was doing, that transcended the actual material she was putting out. And I swear the whole plane was with her. Lilly says this happened on her flight, too. Nobody normally wants to listen to a pilot's speech, but she had the element of surprise. It was just not a normal speech.

At one point-- I think it's the thing you're about to hear-- I turned to the stranger sitting next to me and asked, is she drunk?

Anne Aldrich

No. I used to fly the big airplanes over at American and TWA. American said I didn't have a personality, so they sent me over here to JetBlue. Can you believe that? Hey, real quick story while they're finishing up.

Ira Glass

"The personality to be a pilot," is how I think she worded it the night I saw her.

Air travel is this very orderly, intentionally ritualized, and impersonal kind of corporate experience. But she was just the opposite of corporate. She was like a person. And so I tracked her down to ask how did this happen, exactly. Like, what was she trying to do?

Well, her name is Anne Aldrich, and her answer to the question what are you trying to do could not be more straightforward.

Anne Aldrich

To make people come back to JetBlue. That's a very good question. I want them to come back and fly with us. In the short term, the people that are scared in the back--

Ira Glass

Oh. When Anne says "the back," what she's referring to is the place that you and I call the airplane-- the part we sit in.

Anne Aldrich

The people that are scared in the back of flying, they'll come back up to me at the end of the flight and say, I wasn't scared because you made me laugh. I try-- I mean, I try to be funny.

Ira Glass

Just thinking about the reaction of your passengers, I remember a White House correspondent telling me once that there's a whole class of jokes that aren't actually funny except when you're standing in front of a room and you're the President of the United States making those jokes.

Anne Aldrich

[LAUGHING] Right.

Ira Glass

And I wonder if that's true for airline pilots, as well.

Anne Aldrich

You know, I certainly wouldn't use my routine anywhere else. But I'm a better pilot than I am a comedian. That's for sure. And I think it's funny because, in 2017, people still find it very uncommon to see a woman flying an airplane. On one of my spiels, I say, yeah, I'm going to be your pilot flying to New York tonight. And you see everybody's heads flip up. And I go, yeah, that gets more attention than "there's been a wallet left out on the jetway." I just kind of make a joke about it.

Ira Glass

And is it actually pretty rare?

Anne Aldrich

It's not as rare as it used to be. When I first got on with TWA, there was less than 10 of us gals in an airline that had, I think, at the time, almost 7,000 pilots.

Ira Glass

These days, nationally, about 5% of commercial airline pilots are women, according to the Air Line Pilots Association. Anne flew for 10 years for TWA until it was bought out by American, where she was till layoffs after 9/11. She's been with JetBlue the past 15 years. When she's not flying, she runs a nonprofit animal rescue shelter that she created in Phoenix, where she lives.

I hadn't seen many pilots actually come into the cabin to talk to the passengers at the beginning of a flight. But Anne says that, when she started at JetBlue in the airline's early days, they encouraged pilots to do it.

Anne Aldrich

And at first, I was kind of nervous about doing it. I would go to the back, give the flight time, say welcome aboard, and I was very stoic and trying to be as professional as possible. And then I rode on a few Southwest flights, and saw-- I don't remember what the captain's name was, but he was hilarious. And a number of the flight attendants do it at Southwest. And I thought, I can do this.

Ira Glass

But in imitating that pilot, and trying to be funny like he was, she started to express this part of herself that was not like what you usually hear. For instance, in her preflight spiel, she tells this one story about how when she was a kid in 1970, back when the number of female airline pilots in the United States was exactly zero-- there were none at all-- she told her first grade teacher she wanted to grow up to be an airline pilot.

Anne Aldrich

She goes, you can't be an airline pilot. So a couple of years ago, my son's sitting in first grade. Teacher knows his mom's an airline pilot for JetBlue. His dad's a firefighter out in Phoenix, Arizona. Teacher says, Johnny, what do you want to be when you grow up? What do you think my son says? He goes, I want to be a firefighter. Teacher says, you don't want to be an airline pilot? He goes, airline pilot? Are you kidding? That's a girl's job.

Ira Glass

I asked her about all the cracks that she makes against American Airlines and she said she really has nothing against American Airlines at all. The jokes just play better if you name a specific airline. And she said it's not true that American Airlines told her she didn't have the personality to be a pilot.

Anne Aldrich

You know what? I've got to be honest with you, Ira. The captain that was on Southwest, I stole that from him because he said the exact same thing. "American said I didn't have a personality, so they sent me over here to Southwest." So I actually stole that line from him.

Ira Glass

But my favorite part of Anne's on-board stand-up routine-- the most remarkable and, I think, most idiosyncratic part of it-- is this. In this setting, where everybody seems so stressed out and not so happy at all-- I mean, that is what so much of travel is; hauling from place to place, waiting on line, worrying about all the things that can delay you and go wrong-- Anne unleashes, in this very pure way, her total enthusiasm for flying and just the incredible fact that we fly.

Anne Aldrich

Anyways, you boarded a super hot jet. I love this airplane. It's the Airbus A321. It's all fly-by-wire. Aside from the 727, it's my favorite airplane. We're taken off here in San Diego. We're taking off Runway 27, you guys. We're taking off a weight of 175,000 pounds. Isn't that awesome? Folks, when we leave the concrete, we're doing 165 miles per hour. Get the gear and flaps up. I'm picking it up to 200 and out of 10,000 feet. You know what? FAA says I can go as fast as I want.

Ira Glass

On the night I saw you, you named the runway we were going to land at in New York, and you said it was your favorite runway.

Anne Aldrich

Oh, I know. We probably did the Canarsie arrival onto Runway 13 Left. It's a very technical arrival. It used to be a VOR. Now it's an RNAV arrival. But you come in, it's this roundabout turning, and it's very precise. And you have to be 1,000 feet abeam Runway 13 Right. And you have to be 500 feet over the hotel. And then you get the wind coming off from the buildings. There's always a crosswind when you're landing on 13 Left. And I love that approach because it's difficult. It takes some skill and I love it. I love it. It's fun.

Ira Glass

She still flies gliders in an old crop duster where her hair blows in the wind. But what she loves most about flying is when it takes real skill, where she really has to plan around weather, where she has to plan tricky descents.

Anne Aldrich

Going into, like, San Diego, which has this huge displaced threshold--

Ira Glass

Whatever that is. Or flying into Chicago O'Hare, which is so, so busy.

Anne Aldrich

You ask any pilot in the radio traffic on Chicago. If you're not paying attention, the controllers just send you out on a vector to nowhere for a little while if you miss listening to them. Yeah. And so you've got to be on your toes.

Ira Glass

What are you talking about? You mean they just send you out into the air?

Anne Aldrich

Yep. No more soup for you. You don't answer, and you're going out. They'll say, JetBlue, fly heading such and such. Maintain that altitude. And they send you away for a little bit and then they bring you back in. So I love that. I love that. I'm on my toes. I'm listening. OK, I'm ready.

Ira Glass

Why do so many people complain about airline travel, do you think?

Anne Aldrich

You know, somebody who rides in the back a lot because I have to commute to New York for work, it can be a jungle back there. You've got people changing the babies' diapers on the tray table. And when I'm in uniform, I'm like, how do I say politely and diplomatically, people eat on this thing and you're changing your, you know? And Ira, I've seen people clipping their toenails, burping, you know. It's not like what it used to be.

Ira Glass

I think it's funny to hear you say this because I feel like, as you're saying this, the thing I'm thinking is, the passengers, when they talk about what's terrible about plane travel is they blame it on the airlines. And I feel like, oh, I'm talking to you and I feel like you're totally blaming it on the passengers.

Anne Aldrich

[LAUGHING] Well, you're just in a tight space with a lot of people, that, I'm not sure, but everybody seems to not always be on their best behavior, and I think it's because of all the stress, I guess, of getting there.

Ira Glass

Most people on her flight seem stressed out when they get on the plane, Anne says.

Well, today on our radio show, we have stories for things that happen in transit that create that stress. We have people traveling from spot to spot, being stopped, being ticketed, being delayed in unusually dramatic ways here and on the other side of the world. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Anne Aldrich

So what do you guys think? Let's put the pedal to the metal. Drive this baby like a rental car out to-- OK. OK. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding.

Ira Glass

Tray tables up. Chairs in the upright position, everybody. And stay with us.

Act One: The Most Expected Delay in Northern Ohio

Ira Glass

Act One, The Most Expected Delay in Northern Ohio.

So we heard about this tiny stretch of roadway in Ohio. It's kind of infamous in the area. Many, many people have been delayed there over the years, or maybe waylaid is a better word for it. They've certainly paid the price for going there. Our producer Sean Cole explains.

Sean Cole

This stretch of road is on Interstate 71 just outside Cleveland. It's about 400 yards long, 1,200 or so feet, take less than half a minute to drive it. And it happens to run through the municipal limits of an itty bitty village known as Linndale. And here's the thing everybody knows about Linndale. If you drive down this little stretch of road and you're speeding, the Linndale police will pull you over and give you a ticket. For decades, it's been the most aggressively policed 440-yard stretch of Interstate 71 around. And you have to pass through it to get from the airport to downtown Cleveland, so tourists on their way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or whatever get pulled over. And if you ask people who live in the Cleveland area, Linndale is basically a speed trap masquerading as a town.

Sean Cole

Have you gotten a ticket going through Linndale?

Man 1

Like four.

Man 2

Oh, I've had them. They're crooks.

Woman 1

Myself. My sister got one.

Man 3

My wife has gotten a ticket in there.

Man 4

Everybody that comes to my house, I tell them, go slow when you go through Linndale because they will give you a ticket.

Woman 2

Yes, they were petty. They blurped me.

Sean Cole

They blurped you, meaning they pulled you over.

Woman 2

Yes. Like coming off on 130th right here, thirsty. I was so mad.

Sean Cole

We first heard about Linndale from Mark Gardner, a criminal defense attorney who's represented people in court who've gotten tickets in Linndale. He, himself, has never gotten a ticket on that stretch of road. Says he knows better.

Mark Gardner

As soon as you see certain signs, like West 65th, I'm approaching Linndale, your foot automatically comes off the gas and you look down just to make sure that you're not going to get pulled over.

Sean Cole

Was that muscle memory for you?

Mark Gardner

Absolutely.

Sean Cole

But the reason Mark first told us about Linndale isn't just that they hand out a lot of tickets. It's because of this epic, still-ongoing battle that's developed over the past two decades between Linndale and the Ohio State Legislature, a petty political tit-for-tat that, if it were about something more high stakes-- like health care, nuclear weapons, or something-- would be horrifying. But since it's about speeding tickets, it plays as comedy rather than tragedy.

See, according to the 2010 census, Linndale is a village of 179 people. It's got 35 houses in it, 11 businesses. In some years, it's brought in almost $1 million in speeding violations on the freeway. Again, that's 35 houses, nearly $1 million in speeding tickets-- the vast majority of its budget. It's a municipality that, arguably, wouldn't exist, wouldn't have a budget, or barely any money at all, if not for speeding tickets. And the Ohio Legislature basically treats Linndale as a parasite, living off the lead-footedness of northern Ohioans. So the players are a town that has eight streets in it and a powerful body of lawmakers who thinks its laws are being enforced not wisely and too well.

But the story actually starts before Interstate 71 was even built.

Mike Toczek

Linndale has always been the burr up somebody's ass ever since I can remember.

Sean Cole

Mike Toczek was the mayor of Linndale back in the late '80s and early '90s. After that, he became clerk of Linndale's Mayor's Court, which is just a local town court that handles traffic violations and other low-level offenses. He's 68 and has lived in Linndale most of his life. And the way he describes it-- and it seems to be true-- Linndale has always been a town on the hustle. He remembers back when it was a den of illegal gambling houses. Says he used to like watching all the gamblers jump into their cars and zoom away minutes before the sheriff arrived for a raid. Linndale was also a place, at one point, you could buy fireworks, which were illegal in Cleveland. And when Mike was a kid, the village had more than twice the residents it has now.

Mike Toczek

The freeway, Interstate 71, came through in about-- in the late '60s and cut the village literally in half and took out a ton of homes and businesses. In fact, it took our house. Now, there are some rumors that I heard when I was young that one of the planners for the freeway didn't like Linndale and the state wanted to get rid of us and rerouted the 71 through the middle of Linndale.

Sean Cole

It's tempting to think that the village started ticketing people on the freeway out of revenge, to consciously be a burr in the ass-phalt. But Mike says it was more just an opportunity. Linndale doesn't even have access to 71. There's no off-ramp that leads to the village. Nonetheless, a 1967 article in the Cleveland Press called the freeway Bonanza Boulevard for Linndale.

There's this scene where the mayor at the time, who looked like Paulie from Goodfellas, keeps ringing up $28 speeding citations in the Mayor's Court. He has this real f-you, pay-me attitude about it when people complain. And he throws up his hands at the assertion that Linndale only tickets people for quick cash, saying the village is bound by the state to patrol 71-- which, we called the Ohio Department of Transportation-- it doesn't seem to be true. That mayor later went to prison on gambling and bribery charges. Mike Toczek took over as mayor of Linndale in 1985.

Mike Toczek

I think the police department realized that the main source of income was tickets. And some of the tickets they issued-- and I remember this clearly-- a person would get a ticket. He'd get five tickets. He'd get one for no taillight, one for unsafe vehicle because he didn't have a taillight, another one for something related to that, and another one. And I called the chief over, and I says, we're not doing this. I says, we are not doing this. You're screwing the people. You want to give them a ticket for no taillight? That's it. That's fine.

Sean Cole

But as this is America, there are enough of us just speeding to make a good living off of. And then, in 1994, this curious piece of legislation started working its way through the Ohio House and Senate. It had to do with local police departments handing out traffic violations on the freeway. Among other things, the bill said local police can't hand out speeding tickets on I-71 if fewer than 880 yards of the freeway actually goes through their town, which is twice the yardage that went through Linndale. And local police can't hand out tickets on the freeway if their town doesn't have access to the freeway. Also, it said your town can't begin with L and rhyme with Shwinndale

OK, it didn't say that. But it may as well have. This is Mark Gardner again, the lawyer who first told us about Linndale.

Mark Gardner

It was very clear. It was very obvious. But nobody that I knew had any great sympathy for Linndale. I can only assume that there was some triggering event. And rumor has it that a legislator or one of his well-to-do constituents complained, and that's what got the law rolling. I don't have proof of that. I'm just assuming.

Sean Cole

Luckily, I do have proof of that. Allow me to introduce former Ohio State Representative Ed Kasputis, the guy who first drafted the legislation.

Ed Kasputis

I was sharing office space with a printer. And one of the employees, he got a ticket.

Sean Cole

The office space in question was in Cleveland. That's where he practiced law. And one day around the water cooler-- again, this is 1994-- this guy working for the printing company says--

Ed Kasputis

You're not going to believe what happened to me last night. And we're like, what happened? And he's like, I went to this Mayor's Court, and if people couldn't pay, they put them in a room and gave them a phone, and they said, start dialing for dollars. And if you don't come up with money tonight, you're going to county jail. And it's like, no, you've got to be embellishing. And he's like, no. You've got to check it out. I said, all right, it's time to go and be undercover state rep.

Sean Cole

So Ed puts on his disguise, which according to him is a pair of blue jeans, and drives to Linndale's Village Hall on the one day a week everybody goes to contest their tickets or just to pay them. And he sees what looks like officials handing a phone to one defendant after another. The story seemed to check out. Except for one part.

Ed Kasputis

They don't take you to county jail.

Sean Cole

They don't take you to county jail.

Ed Kasputis

But they threaten you, and you and I would not like to go to county jail for a night. I then started to research the city of Linndale and confirmed that this is this little mouse that roared that is basically financing the entire government on traffic tickets. And as a policymaker, I just didn't think that was a fair way to treat people. Because 9 times out of 10, or 10 times out of 10, these were citizens that couldn't vote the mayor out of office.

Sean Cole

That is, Linndale was mostly ticketing non-Linndalers. In fact, Linndale is not in Ed Kasputis' district, and as he started writing the legislation, it came out that he, himself, had gotten a ticket in Linndale and just paid it without even ever looking at it. And the other thing that really galled him was the fact that there was no ramp in Linndale to and from the highway, that Linndale police had to drive out of Linndale, through part of Cleveland, and then work their way back to that little infamous patch on 71.

Ed Kasputis

And you see, from a public policy standpoint, that makes no sense, if you have to leave your city to go back in on the fiction of, we're protecting our citizens. No. The Serengeti--

Sean Cole

That's what Ed calls the freeway. The Serengeti. Speeders are gazelles.

Ed Kasputis

The Serengeti has people from all over the world running on it. The people in Linndale-- there's like a stoplight at Burger King, and that's kind of it.

Sean Cole

You mean, in giving tickets to speeders on that little stretch of 71, they're not doing anything to actually protect their residents?

Ed Kasputis

No. Not at all. They should be driving around, protecting their residents from crime, instead of trying to be the Ohio State Highway Patrol for 220 yards.

Sean Cole

Again, it's 400 yards. And the Burger King closed down a long time ago. Anyway, Ed's bill passed. It became against the law for the village to enforce the law on I-71-- or at least the law against speeding. I asked Mike Toczek, the former mayor, what he thought when he heard about the bill.

Mike Toczek

Oh, again.

Sean Cole

That's what you thought is, oh, again?

Mike Toczek

Oh, again. Approximately once every 10 years, somebody would come after us for something.

Sean Cole

Before, it was the gambling. Now it was handing out too many speeding tickets. He says people used to approach him-- reporters like me-- and say, what are you guys doing in business with this ticket racket?

Mike Toczek

I says, you know what? You want to put us out of business? Don't speed. Just stop speeding. Everybody in the Cleveland area knows about Linndale. If you know it's there, and you know they give tickets, and you're still, if you will, stupid enough to speed, then you deserve it.

Sean Cole

That's Linndale's position in this whole battle in a nutshell. You don't like it, then just follow the rules. We don't set the speed limit. All we're doing is enforcing the rules imposed by the state. And the state's position is, no. You're abusing the rules we made for your personal enrichment. We don't like the way you're enforcing them. And we can do something about it.

Again, former State Rep Ed Kasputis.

Ed Kasputis

Everybody needs a check and balance. What's the check and balance for Linndale? I would say one of them is the legislature. That's all. And what's a check and balance on the legislature? The court system.

Sean Cole

In other words, Linndale sued-- together with another community that was similar-- for their right to ticket people on their stretch of roadway. The argument was that Ed Kasputis' bill violated the Ohio State Constitution, which says that cities and villages can govern themselves as long as their local regulations don't conflict with state law. The appeal process lasted about five years, during which time, Linndale was allowed to keep pulling people over on 71. Finally, in 1999, the Ohio State Supreme Court ruled in Linndale's favor. Round 1-- Linndale.

Fast forward about 10 years when another state legislator got, according to Linndalers, a burr in his ass about the village, although, he wouldn't describe it that way. His name's Tom Patton. He used to be a senator. Now he's in the House. And he approached the Linndale problem from another direction. And what he did was pretty ingenious.

Tom Patton

I came up with the idea because I've put in a bill that said, if you have less than 150 people, you can't have a Mayor's Court.

Sean Cole

At that time, Linndale was reported to have 117 residents. It's ingenious because that little local village court in Linndale is how the village was able to keep all the money it generated from the tickets. Whatever court a speeding case is heard in, the fines and other costs stay in that court. Without its Mayor's Court, all the fines would be processed somewhere else, and Linndale would only get a fraction or nothing at all. It was, essentially, rerouting the plumbing through which all the ticket money flowed.

Now, Tom Patton, like Ed Kasputis before him, claims his bill wasn't solely about Linndale. He says he's against Mayor's Courts in general. But then, after he wrote his bill saying that, if your village has fewer than 150 people, you can't have a Mayor's Court, the census came out saying that Linndale didn't have 117 residents. It had 179 residents.

Tom Patton

So we simply crossed out 150 on the bill and we made it 200.

Sean Cole

The bill passed in 2012 and Linndale police were still allowed to ticket on 71. They just weren't keeping as much of the proceeds now, with no Mayor's Court. I read one report that said, at this point, income from the tickets dropped to a little more than 1% of what it had been. Jobs went away, the court clerk for one. There's no court anymore.

Steve Pokrandt remembers those days pretty well. We talked on his back porch in Linndale. Sort of a tiki theme back there. Steve was the maintenance man for the village when the Mayor's Court went away.

Steve Pokrandt

They cut everyone's pay. Minimum wage is what they cut me down to. The bank account was draining because nothing's coming in. Health care was eliminated for the employees that used to receive it.

Sean Cole

And what was it like in the town during that time? Did it feel less--

Steve Pokrandt

Not happy. It was not happy. Sit around the office and, oh, just, oh. We would say, well, what happens to a government if it runs out of money? Does it just fold up? And what about the trash? Who takes care of the people? There's rumors. You'd hear like, well, if that happens, the state will take us over. And nobody really knew at the time.

Sean Cole

If you're wondering what Linndale was spending all its money on, here's a really basic breakdown. At this point, the total budget was about $1.2 million, with most of it from speeding tickets and a little from property and income taxes-- things like that. About 60% of that went to the security of persons and property, which mostly means the police department and a little bit to Cleveland Fire and EMS. The average for other villages in the county is 37%. Another quarter of Linndale's budget went to government salaries-- the mayor, treasurer, a teeny bit for the village counselors.

If you're keeping track, that's almost everything. Every other category is much less. Utility services-- that's trash pick-up and stuff-- was half of 1%. Again, this was all in the Mayor's Court days. The police expenses and government salaries have dropped a lot since then. Also, Linndale spent $100,000 appealing the law that Representative Patton wrote. And this time, they lost that appeal. So round 2-- the state of Ohio. And Tom Patton was the captain of that team.

Tom Patton

And all hail the conquering hero. People thought-- I mean, that's not--

Sean Cole

All hail what?

Tom Patton

The conquering hero.

Sean Cole

That was you?

Tom Patton

I think the way that people responded to it-- there was also, oh, thank God you got rid of Linndale.

Sean Cole

I mean, I get what you're saying that, on its face, it seems cynical to fund your town largely on the backs of speeding motorists. And something just feels unscrupulous about that. But isn't it equally cynical and unscrupulous to devise legislation that would apply to the whole state when you pretty much have this one community in mind over time?

Tom Patton

No, it's not a question of targeting. This happens to be something that-- they're in the media a lot. They get coverage a lot. So it's kind of put in our face. I actually had reporters come and say, now they're doing this. What's your next move?

Sean Cole

Which is the question I have, too.

Tom Patton

And I said, well, it's not a question of making moves.

Sean Cole

Representative Patton didn't simply want Linndale to stop ticketing people. He thinks the village shouldn't exist, that it should merge with Cleveland or with another suburb nearby. He actually doesn't think any village as small as Linndale should exist. And now he had driven the village one step closer to extinction.

But the village was only in the red for about six months, because right around this time, there was a change in administration. A new mayor, Ashlee McLaughlin. And she had an ingenious idea, too. The village council had already been discussing it. There's this one intersection in town by the police station. It's where Memphis Avenue meets Avenue of Peace. And Memphis Avenue is really well-trafficked. In fact, people go barreling down that street at speeds way above the 25 mile an hour limit. Mayor McLaughlin says the village wanted to enforce traffic laws there anyway. And they could do it in a way that they didn't even have to pull people over.

Sean Cole

And where is the camera?

Ashlee Mclaughlin

There's one right there.

Sean Cole

OK. Two cameras--

Ashlee Mclaughlin

That lovely green pole that doesn't--

Sean Cole

Mayor McLaughlin had two speed-limit cameras installed on that corner-- one on each side of the road. These things are all over the place now. You've seen them. If you're speeding, they take a picture of your car and send you a ticket in the mail within a month. And most importantly, it's a civil infraction, not a criminal one, so it doesn't have to be processed through a court.

Sean Cole

OK. And there's a sign right next to it that says "traffic laws, photo enforced."

Ashlee Mclaughlin

It says, "speed limit 25-- photo enforced."

Sean Cole

These two cameras are set to go off if you're driving 11 miles an hour or more over the limit. And so many cars go that fast on Memphis Avenue that Linndale is pulling in more money from the cameras than it did on the highway. Mayor McLaughlin also told me that there used to be four accidents a year at that corner, but since the cameras went up in 2013, there have been zero.

Now, as it happens, there are a few folks in the state legislature who just hate traffic cameras in general. And by mere coincidence, not long after Linndale put up its traffic cameras, another bill passed that said, among other things, traffic cameras could only be used in Ohio if a police officer was, quote, "present at the location of the device." And when this bill went through, almost half the communities in Ohio that had been using traffic cameras said they were going to stop using them. Columbus, Dayton, Springfield, West Carrollton. And certainly no places started using them.

You want to guess who did keep their traffic camera running with an officer stationed by it?

[KNOCKING]

Ashlee Mclaughlin

Officer?

Ralph Moncrief

Hey, how you doing, mam?

Ashlee Mclaughlin

Hi.

Sean Cole

For a while, Linndale just parked an unmarked cruiser with an officer in it by the cameras. But then they decided, that's nuts. We can't do that, just to have a guy there in a car all day. No. Instead, they built a hut. I call it a hut.

Ashlee Mclaughlin

Bernie Mac is on TV.

Sean Cole

It's got a TV, a combination DVD/VCR machine, boombox, microwave--

Sean Cole

Oh. There is a dorm fridge. Oh, wow.

And yes, a split-screen security monitor so they can keep tabs on what's happening on the roadway. Oh. And there's a window through which you can see the cameras. Ralph Moncrief was the traffic enforcement officer on duty that day. He's a mixed martial artist. Sometimes, he brings a weight bench to his shift and trains outside the hut for his tournaments. Mayor McLaughlin explained this to me while we were sitting in the village hall with Linndale's law director, Richard Neff.

Sean Cole

So Linndale is paying an officer to go down there and work out for however many hours.

Ashlee Mclaughlin

We're paying him to monitor the cameras.

Sean Cole

But what does that mean, monitoring the cameras?

Ashlee Mclaughlin

He has to be present, and he has to be within physical eyeline of the cameras.

Sean Cole

For wh-- for what? Is he making sure they're on?

Richard Neff

Ask the legislature. They're the ones that decided that was the requirement.

Ashlee Mclaughlin

If they want officers there, fine. I think we just became a little bit more famous because we're one of the few people that complied with this.

Sean Cole

And you're Linndale-- not to put too fine a point on it.

Ashlee Mclaughlin

Well, you know, we want to comply.

Sean Cole

Does it feel like, Alaska has oil. Pennsylvania has natural gas. Linndale has people going more than 25 miles an hour?

Ashlee Mclaughlin

That's a very funny way to state that. No, I don't look at the criminals as a natural resource.

Sean Cole

No?

Ashlee Mclaughlin

No, I don't.

Sean Cole

I mean, they're going to be there.

Ashlee Mclaughlin

Not if they stop speeding.

Sean Cole

But if they stop speeding, no money.

Ashlee Mclaughlin

We'll be OK.

Richard Neff

If they stop speeding, it's safer. That's our goal.

Ashlee Mclaughlin

Right.

Sean Cole

That's the whole goal?

Ashlee Mclaughlin

Absolutely.

Sean Cole

Really?

Ashlee Mclaughlin

Yes. Yes!

Sean Cole

After I got back home from Cleveland, the Ohio State Supreme Court ruled that the law saying an officer must be present at the traffic cameras was unconstitutional, that it violated the same provision as before with Ed Kasputis' bill.

Representative Patton was disappointed, partly because the decision could compromise this whole new round of bills he has drafted. One says you can't use traffic cameras if your community takes in more than 30% of its money every year from camera tickets. Another says the number of camera tickets a community issues can't be more than twice the population of that place. And you can't issue any tickets at all if your town has fewer than 200 people. He still insists that the bills are not specifically targeting Linndale. Linndalers don't buy it.

Mayor McLaughlin says, if the ticketing in Linndale was just to make money, they'd put cameras up all over the village. Representative Patton doesn't buy it.

And in both cases, how could you buy it? It seems obvious what each side is up to, and yet neither will acknowledge it, even though both sides are well within their rights to be doing what they're doing. Both are playing by the rules, by the letter of the law. And yet, at the same time, in both cases, what they're doing just seems a little underhanded somehow. So it's hard to come down on one side or the other. Although, as with all my favorite comedies, it's fun to watch the little mouse outsmart the cat over and over again.

Ira Glass

Sean Cole-- he's one of the producers of our show. Coming up, a transportation system that is designed to keep you waiting and to send you on routes far out of your way, which is exactly as unfun as it sounds. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, Expect Delays-- stories of trying to get from one place to another.

Act Two: Asleep at the Wheel

Ira Glass

We have arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, Asleep at the Wheel.

So in the first half of today's program, we heard about people speeding down a stretch of road in Ohio faster than the speed limit. Now in this act, we head to a different continent and another stretch of road and another group of motorists trying to get from here to there, but not speeding at all. Kind of the opposite, in fact. Here's Stephanie Foo.

Stephanie Foo

Louisa Lim was reporting for the BBC in China. And in September 2004, she was heading through the province of Ningxia to interview a mayor. She was with her producer, her cameraman, a driver, and her minder.

Louisa Lim

At that time, within China, you had to travel everywhere with a government official, like a minder, watching you. So we were also traveling with this minder from the local government, who inexplicably had brought his wife, as well. So we were a little bit confused about what purpose she was actually playing, but we figured she just kind of wanted a trip. And he was a very interesting character. He was very fiery-natured.

Stephanie Foo

Which is her polite way of saying he kept getting in fights with all of the officials he'd introduced them to. Anyway, so there's five people and Louisa-- a whole entourage. And they're all crammed into this tiny van. People in China call them bread vans because they're white and boxy like a loaf of bread. It's like a Chinese Wes Anderson film, complete with curmudgeonly Chinese Bill Murray.

Louisa Lim

And to begin with, it was quite nice-- bucolic landscapes and farmers pitching hay, and hills stretching into the distance. And then suddenly, we hit just this massive traffic jam. By then, it was relatively late. It was already like 10:00 at night. And when we looked in the distance, all we could see was the little red dots, rear lights of the cars lining up in front of us, just as far as the eye could see. Nothing was moving. It was just total gridlock.

Stephanie Foo

Louisa's minder went and talked to some other people in the jam and learned that there was a massive road repair, which had narrowed the highway to one lane. A bunch of trucks tried to cut the line and jam themselves through the narrow opening, which just created an impassable mess of tiny traffic jams and accidents. Her minder, for once, hadn't picked a fight with anyone. He didn't even seem particularly frustrated. It was weird.

Louisa Lim

He was just completely resigned. He just kind of shrugged his shoulders and said, no. We're not going anywhere. There's no way out. We'll just have to spend the night here. And he just seemed fine with this idea. And I was definitely not fine with the idea of sleeping in this little bread van with all these people in the middle of nowhere all night long. And I was also really worried. I remember, because earlier that week, we'd read an article in the office about people who'd been stuck in a traffic jam for five days and five nights.

Stephanie Foo

Oh, my God.

Louisa Lim

So we were just imagining that could be us.

Stephanie Foo

In fact, traffic jams that last more than a couple days happen so often in China that there was a parody pop song detailing what you should always keep in your car, just in case. There was an epic jam in 2010 that made international news, where a highway was backed up for more than 10 days and stretched 74 miles.

There are a few reasons why this happens. A huge increase in the number of cars on the road in recent years, lots of newer drivers with little experience, badly maintained roads, and poor civic planning.

Louisa Lim

I know that it's become a thing that if you get stuck in traffic, local villages start coming out and selling you bottles of water and cooking for you and setting up their own businesses. But we were really in the middle of nowhere. There was no one around us. We didn't have anything. We had a few bottles of water, but we didn't have any food or anything else. Certainly not for five days and five nights. That's one of the reasons why we were worried, but mainly, I was worried because I was a bit of a control freak and I was like, I cannot spend the night here. I'm not going to waste my time and mess up all my schedules.

And then, I think, by hour three, we were getting out and talking to people. And it was quite interesting because all around us there were trucks. It was a big truck route. And in the truck behind us, there were six men who were crammed into that cabin and they were playing cards. And they were just totally unbothered by the situation. They didn't seem the slightest bit worried at all. And when I said to them, aren't you worried? They went, no, no, no. It's fine. It happens all the time. One of them told us that he'd been stuck for seven days and seven nights in a row before.

Stephanie Foo

Oh my God.

Louisa Lim

Right. One of them said he spent four nights a month sleeping in traffic jams because it was just so common.

Stephanie Foo

They managed to get the flow of traffic going again within 12 hours, but something that really stuck with Louisa was the look all the other truck drivers gave her.

Louisa Lim

I think they just thought that we were-- that I, in particular, was just really over the top. They were just like, what are you fussing about? That's just the way that it is.

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

And traffic jams are so common, I don't get upset over this.

Stephanie Foo

This is Liu Zefeng. He's 47 years old. He's been a trucker in China for about 18 years now. He was not in Louisa's traffic jam, but he's been in plenty of jams like it. On every 11-day haul he takes, he says he'll get stuck at least a couple times overnight, midnight to morning, which, amazingly, doesn't bother him.

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

In fact, we're kind of happy about it, otherwise we'll be driving nonstop. It's very tiring, so the traffic jam provides time for rest.

Stephanie Foo

This is crazy to me because if I was stuck in a traffic jam for three days, I would lose my mind I'd be so stressed out.

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

Mainly, you really have to plan ahead and think ahead. Always have enough fuel in the truck, food, some snacks. And always keep hot water in the truck to make instant noodle. We will bring bread. We will bring instant noodles. We will bring some cake. And that's about it.

Stephanie Foo

That's a lot of carbs.

Interpreter

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

No vegetables. We can't think about healthy or not healthy in those moments.

Stephanie Foo

Chinese truckers are so used to these jams that Liu told me that, late in the evening, everyone starts driving more slowly. And after midnight, when traffic gets slow enough, truck drivers will turn their vehicles off and go to sleep right there in the middle of the highway. And even if the road clears ahead of them, they won't inch forward. They'll just wait until morning to wake up, start their cars, and get going again.

Liu's worst jam was during a 2008 ice storm, where the road became too slippery to drive on. He and all the other truck drivers went to sleep like they always do, figuring it'd be over in a few hours. But in the morning, it was still jammed.

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

We start getting out of our trucks and start comparing what we were all hauling. So we were hauling oranges. Other trucks were hauling watermelons, bananas. So we naturally started to trade each other's goods to eat.

Stephanie Foo

Their employers actually give them a case to keep or trade. Liu was stuck there for a total of three days and three nights. There are videos online of people getting out of their cars during large traffic jams. And they get creative to entertain themselves. They play volleyball, barbecue, even square dance. I was excited to discover how Liu passed the time.

Stephanie Foo

What do you do for fun for three days?

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

Nothing special. We would just sleep and get up and see how the traffic's going and we will fall back to sleep and come back up.

Stephanie Foo

You just sleep for three days straight?

Interpreter

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Stephanie Foo

Certainly, you must do other things for three days.

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

No.

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

When nearby residents come and give or start to sell eggs or hot water or instant noodle, we got up and see if there's anything we want. If there's nothing, we just go back to bed. Just shut that door and go to sleep.

Stephanie Foo

Do you have conversations with the other truck drivers to get to know them?

Liu Zefeng

[SPEAKING CHINESE]

Interpreter

No. They also were sleeping in their own trucks.

Stephanie Foo

Normally, if you're on your way somewhere and there's a delay, you can choose to fight back, search for an alternate route, call customer service to book a different flight, ditch your bike and rent a car. But sometimes there's no other option. You've got no choice but to surrender and live in the moment of your delay, like Liu does. Relax. Kick back. Sleep it off.

Ira Glass

Stephanie Foo is one of the producers of our show.

Act Three: The Longest Distance Between Two Points

Ira Glass

Act Three, The Longest Distance Between Two Points.

In New York City, most of the subways are not accessible. Almost 80% don't have elevators. So disabled New Yorkers and some elderly New Yorkers use a system called Access-A-Ride. Cities all over the country have their own versions. In New York City, the way it works is that you call the day before you need to go somewhere. You have to call by 5:00 PM to schedule your trip. They assign you a pickup time. Often, it's as much as two hours before the time you need to get to where you're going.

What this means is that, if you're leading a normal, adult life and your plans change in any way on the day of the ride, you're stuck. You can't do anything. You can't get a different time. If you cancel, you have to explain why. Too many cancellations within a certain period, and they can cut you off. And that is the service when it runs the way that it's supposed to. Delays and waits are literally built into it. Like, that's the premise.

Britney Wilson uses the service every day.

Britney Wilson

I've been using Access-A-Ride since I was 11 years old, around the age many New York City kids begin riding public transportation by themselves. I'm a black woman with Cerebral Palsy. There are many different forms and degrees of CP, but mine particularly affects my lower body. I wear leg braces and walk with crutches. Access-A-Ride is notorious among the people who rely on it for being inefficient and unreliable. People call it Stress-A-Ride.

I've been fighting this system since I was a kid. At first, I protested the service's problems in true millennial fashion. I complained to family, friends, and social media followers, wrote blog posts, and started change.org petitions. Then I went to law school to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to fight on behalf of myself and others. I graduated two years ago from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Now I'm back home in Brooklyn, practicing civil rights law, and I'm back on Access-A-Ride. I take it to and from work every day.

I've spoken at transportation board meetings and appeared on local news talking about changes that need to be made to the system. And I'm not shy about filing formal complaints. Something happens every two months or so the calls for it. One of my biggest problems with Access-A-Ride is the wait. You tell Access-A-Ride when you need to be somewhere, and they give you a pickup time. But the pickup times are aspirational at best. They've actually started calling them Promised Times. But it seems like a promise made with their fingers crossed behind their backs. Access-A-Ride is considered to be on time if it's not more than 30 minutes late, but it's common for it to take over an hour. You're supposed to wait outside at your pickup time, no matter the weather. Sometimes riders just don't get picked up at all.

Although we riders can get stuck waiting for hours, drivers only have to give us a five-minute grace period if we're not outside when they arrive. They're encouraged to call us if they don't see us, but technically, those calls are courtesies, not requirements. One winter evening, my driver stopped to pick up a passenger who wasn't outside when we pulled up. After a few minutes, a black woman who was probably in our 70s exited a nearby McDonald's, rushing and pushing a walker in front of her.

There were three black garbage bags resting on her walker seat. As the driver got off the bus to let the lift down, he yelled, you're lucky I didn't leave you. It's been more than five minutes. Five minutes, she asked. I've been waiting for this ride for over three hours. The people in the McDonald's let me sit down and wait inside, and I didn't see you when you first pulled up. You're over the bag limit, the driver said. The limit is two. You have three. That's what's wrong with Access-A-Ride people. You take advantage. You're spoiled and entitled.

I've come across this attitude a lot. We should be happy we have this service, no matter how dysfunctional it is or what we have to put up with in the process. We should be happy we have anything at all. Poor people and people of color are often accused of being entitled, but so are people with disabilities. And many people who use Access-A-Ride are all three.

The woman was outraged. She told the driver he didn't even have to help her with her bags. She was handling them herself. She explained that she only got to go grocery shopping once in a while, so she crammed as many grocery bags as she could into the garbage bags, trying her best not to violate the bag limit. Do you have a mother, she asked the driver. Would you want someone treating her this way when she gets old?

The thing I complain the most about is the routes. Access-A-Ride drivers have to follow predetermined routes, which are created each day based on who's riding and where they're going. But the routes don't make any sense. Often, half of my ride is spent going in the opposite direction of my destination. I only work 8 miles away, maybe a 45-minute drive, but on average, it takes me 2 hours each way to go between my home and my office.

Many drivers have openly agreed with me about changes that need to be made to the service. On rides, we bond over everything from the struggle of being a Knicks fan to the struggle of being a pawn in the Access-A-Ride system. It's a stressful job, and they don't like having to drive from Brooklyn to the Bronx and back again in no logical order any more than passengers like having to experience it.

Sometimes I complain to drivers I like about drivers I don't. One of my favorite drivers told me that drivers did the same thing when it comes to passengers. I'm probably famous around the Access-A-Ride base, I joked. Then he gave me a piece of advice. No matter how bad drivers may be, try not to confront them personally, he said. Be careful. They know where you live.

Whether they realize it or not, I know the way many drivers treat me may be influenced by how I look and, by extension, what they think they can get away with in my presence. I'm a 5' 1" black woman on crutches. On an average day, most people are shocked when I open my mouth and they realize I'm not 16.

The worst thing a driver tried happened right outside my house just this summer. I was coming home from work. There was only one other passenger on board. He dropped her off at her apartment in Brooklyn, and my house was just 10 minutes away. I live on a quiet residential block. When the driver turned onto my street, I took my headphones off and began to gather my things. I knew that no one else was home, so I searched for my house keys and draped them around my neck.

The driver pulled up to my house, opened the bus door, rose, and made an announcement. I've got to pee, he said. Had to go since I picked you up in Manhattan. I wondered why he felt the need to share this information. He grabbed a Styrofoam coffee cup and began walking toward me. I thought he was going to help me off the bus, so I prepared to hand him my crutches, but he didn't take them. I'm just going to go in this cup, he said. Then he sat in a seat across from me, began to unzip his fly, and I got it. He was going to pee right then and there.

As inappropriate and disgusting as it was, it wasn't physically harmful. Should I scream right now, I wondered? Would that be appropriate or would I be overreacting? Knowing that people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of sexual assault, I said a silent prayer to myself. I thought about just leaving my bag and trying to make a break for it. But with my crutches, I couldn't get off the bus on my own. I was just feet away from my house, but I couldn't get there. I wondered if he would have done this if I were white. I said nothing and turned my head away.

Years ago, when I was a teenager on this bus, I thought education would be the answer to all of my problems. But even with a law degree, I'm still a woman. I'm still black. And I'm still disabled. I thought, if this man does try anything more, your shiny Ivy League law degree will not save you. He finished with what he was doing and then he took my crutches to assist me in getting off the bus.

I hated the thought of him having to touch them, but I had no other choice. I handed him the bottom half, hoping that his hands wouldn't get anywhere near the handle part that I actually had to hold. As if nothing had happened, he asked if I also wanted him to hold my purse or my lunch bag. As I got off the bus, he offered to open my front gate for me. No, thank you, I said. I went inside as quickly as I could, washed my hands, wiped down my crutches, and called Transit to file a complaint.

A few days later, Access-A-Ride told me the driver had been fired. And since then, thanks to that complaint and maybe all my other complaints, they seemed to be trying to address some of my issues. Sometimes I get better routing that gets me to work faster, which is nice, but not at all what I'm aiming for. I don't want them to fix it just for me. That's not fixing the problem. The problem is with the whole system. That's what I can't seem to get across to Access-A-Ride.

Once, when I was complaining to a representative about the roundabout two-hour routes they create for me and everyone else, the representative pointed out that, at least on that particular day, I'd made it to my destination on time. I explained that wasn't the point. You still want to file a complaint, even though you got there on time, he clarified? Yes. I don't understand the problem, then.

Ira Glass

Britney Wilson. She practices civil rights law at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. A version of this story first appeared on the website Longreads, which is a great site, by the way. You can find that at longreads.com.

Credits

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Stephanie Foo. The people who put our show together includes Elna Baker, Elise Bergerson, Susan Burton, Ben Calhoun, Zoe Chace, Sean Cole, Kimberly Henderson, David Kestenbaum, Seth Lind, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, BA Parker, Benjamin Phelan, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, Julie Whitaker, and Diane Wu. Our senior producer is Brian Reed.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Louisa Lim, the reporter who got stuck in a traffic jam in China in Act Two of our show today has a podcast about China called The Little Red Podcast.

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, he really loves this one song from Hamilton that never made it into the musical. Maybe because of the name.

Mike Toczek

Always been the burr of somebody's ass.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.