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You can count on me

As a kid, I was very impatient and edgy (things havenít changed much at all). While waiting for a bus, I had to keep myself occupied lest I poke someone in the bus-stop with a compass due to sheer boredom. So I took to counting carsÖ1, 2, 3, 4Ö.and so on till the darn bus arrived. To make it more challenging, I counted Marutis and Ambassadors simultaneously and kept an accurate tally in my head. After 50 cars, if Marutis were higher than the Amassadors, I would allow myself to blink. If not, Iíd sit around like a wide eyed zombie waiting for more Marutis while tears welled up. It was mind-boggling, fun and an enduring game that kept me entertained and my brain charged during the most dreadful part of the day.

How many of us are lucky enough to get paid to relive our childhood games? As a part of my job, I was requested to go to an intersection and count carsÖ for the whole afternoon and the next afternoon count planes take off from one particular runway. Imagine my glee. I took my picnic chair, propped it at the corner of the intersection, wore my orange vest, made myself comfortable with snacks and coke and started counting while keeping a tab of it in paper. 1, 2, 3, 4, slashÖ till I was brain dead by the end of the day. Itís a whole different story counting for the whole day versus counting till a bus arrives. ĎYou! Stop staring and drive. Havenít you ever seen a girl sitting on a chair in an isolated intersection?í Counting sheep to sleep was never the same again. Left turning sheep, right turning sheep, dented sheep, sheep running amok through the signals showing finger at other sheep.

Traffic counts are usually done by other data collecting agencies that have sophisticated equipment just for this purpose; but very rarely, in case of emergencies we go to the field instead of waiting for the counts. Itís great when I get to go out in spring and summer, but in winterÖitís dreadful but still a welcome change to the cube. One such winter night I was counting cars sitting inside my own car with the heater turned on and the radio blasting. I had pulled over to the side in a ditch and parked right in front of a street light (almost touching it). To any passerby it would seem like an accident, but that was only vantage point to get all the action. Half a dozen cops stopped by to inquire based on calls from drivers on suspicious-brown-woman-inside-car-looking-extremely-suspicious. I assuaged their fears by flashing my ID and explaining who I work for. I hated those interruptions as I would have to start counting from scratch. Annoying snoopy cops. Then there was one good-samaritan couple that stopped their truck, pulled down their windows and hollered if I needed any help or if I needed to be pulled out of the ditch. Keeping one of my eyes on the cars, I yelled back impatiently, ĎIím OK! Just counting cars.í

They looked at each other, shuddered in ambiguous horror and sped away real fast.

That same day, a red Toyota merged from the ramp smoking all the way. The car stopped, the driver got off and ran while the vehicle just blew up in flames 50 feet from where I was stationed. I wondered for a minute if I should include that car in my database or not. I decided to scoot from there before I got arrested for triggering a bomb.

No one believed my story at work when I told them I couldnít complete the work and might have to go back another day.

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