Saturday morning, just before 11 a.m., a curious traffic jam appeared on eastbound Linton Boulevard in Delray. The light at Old Dixie Highway was stuck on red, and the gates that guard the railroad tracks were frozen in the down position, as if warning of a train that never appeared.
At first, I figured it was a glitch that would fix itself. Then I noticed a few cars beginning to hurl themselves over the median, U-turn, and head west. They were sensing a disaster that I didn't yet understand.
After a while, two Delray Beach cop cars arrived. And that's when the real fun began.
One officer got out and started directing traffic. He waved cars through the intersection from every direction -- except for ours. We eastbound suckers just sat there, fuming behind the frozen gates. We hadn't moved for half an hour, and this cop wasn't doing anything about it.
You could feel the anger rising in the exhaust fumes. A chorus of honking began, and people started getting out of their cars. At one point, a courageous woman marched purposefully down the median and lifted one of the gates herself! Several cars gratefully slipped through. But our euphoria was brief. The cop ordered her to put the gate down.
Next, a young mom headed down the median and started pleading with the officer, saying she had a 3-year-old in the car who had to use the bathroom. Couldn't he do something? The cop kept saying that another officer was going to stop the traffic flow behind us, so we could all turn around and head west. But we saw no sign of progress. It was now 11:40 a.m.
"Please help us," one man at the front of the line yelled. "This is bullshit! C'mon, officer, we're trapped!"
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It was starting to feel like a bad episode of Lost.
Finally, as another woman got out to ask the cop why he refused to lift the gate, he provided the explanation we'd all been waiting for. "If that [gate] comes down while I'm holding it up, I'm liable," the officer said. "I'm not gonna be responsible for that."
How's that for public service? Rule number one: Protect thy own ass.
It took almost an hour for the eastbound lane to be freed. At 11:48 a.m., another officer began directing us to turn around and head west. By then, I should have been elated, but I couldn't help marveling at the Delray cop's P.R. skills. How many new enemies did he make for the force that day?