How had it come to this, sighed Dave.
For many years he had been The Traffic Tracker, his helicopter swooping and weaving over Dublin each morning and evening, his voice swooping and weaving with breathless tales of gridlocks, pile-ups and broken-down buses. His was the most eagerly awaited section on drive-time news, with people listening impatiently through the man giving the snooker scores and the woman relaying share price movements to hear Dave tell them whether or not they would be home in time for EastEnders.
Then not just to tell them, but to help make it so. Over time he had become a champion of the beleaguered commuter, urging rubber-neckers over the airwaves to hurry on past minor accidents, and often hovering above badly-parked delivery vans and yelling at them through a bull-horn. He developed a following, once turned on Dublin’s Christmas lights, and was asked to be a contestant on Dancing With The Stars.
He earned income for the station, ending each report with, “you’re listening to The Traffic Tracker, sponsored by Facebook – Because We Know Where You’re Going”.
All the while his secret dream, shared by all traffic reporters all over the world, had been to get the Paris job, reporting excitedly each day from above the traffic of the Arc de Triomphe roundabout.
Then came drones.
They didn’t cost him his job, they just dulled it. Banking around Liberty Hall was replaced by banks of screens, each projecting images from a different drone. At first he was deflated by the change, and his reports became mundane and matter-of-fact.
But Dave was a showman and quickly realized the possibilities of his flying eyes. He marshalled them like an army, covering not just the major routes but highlighting the use of quiet streets as rat-runs, complaining about illogical traffic-light settings, and outing motorists in bus-lanes, hovering a drone in front of their windscreen and then posting their photo on his Instagram page. His popularity grew again.
Then came Covid.
At first it was funny, reporting each day that there was nothing to report. He felt like the “Scorchio” girl from The Fast Show. But then he started losing listeners, since people whose morning commute was from the bedroom to the spare bedroom couldn’t care less about tail-backs on the M50, of which there were none anyway. His drones were diverted to tracking flour-delivery lorries coming off the ferries. Facebook did not renew their contract.
Eventually the radio station let him go.
He had thought that he would easily find alternative work, but his fate was being shared by traffic reporters in every city. Still, he was the best known, so when an opening did occur it was Dave who was offered it first.
It was in a start-up called Killincarrig Village Radio, a small station with big ideas. They had a sports reporter, who interviewed members of the local hurling team and had phone-ins about the state of the golf club’s fairways. They had an Entertainment Editor, who talked about the Kardashians and recommended box-sets. They had an International Correspondent, who read out stuff off Time Magazine’s website.
And they had a Traffic Reporter, in a village that had only one street.
Today was Dave’s first day. He had no helicopter. He had no drones. What he had was, from the tiny studio above the pub, a view up and down the street.
A report on a very bad phone line came to an end. The Anchor leaned forward to his microphone and said “Sinead Long there with that report about the strange smell coming from the field behind the car-park. Now it’s time to welcome The Traffic Tracker, and remember, if you, the public, see any traffic problems please text us at 50811. Well, Dave,” he continued, sneering slightly, “is the village in grid-lock?”
Dave flashed him a mirthless smile. “No, Joe, there’s nothing major to report today,” he said. “Traffic is pretty light heading northbound, and on the southbound side it’s well, pretty light.” He glanced out of the window again. “We do have some breaking news, though,” he said, and was pleased to see Joe sit up in surprise, “a wheelie-bin has toppled out into the street outside Number Twenty-Nine and is causing delays of up to forty seconds for traffic heading south, if there’s something coming the other way. Well, that’s the summary -”
A text alert sounded from the mobile phone. Joe’s mouth dropped open.
Build it and they will come, thought Dave joyously. Get a Traffic Reporter and you will get traffic. “We do have some more breaking news,” he said, opening the message. “a listener has texted 50811 to tell us -”
He looked down at the message. It read “why don’t you go out and pick up the bin instead of telling us about it?”
Dave turned disconsolately back to his microphone. “Er, in fact, we don’t have any more news, apologies.” He sighed inwardly, because he knew his humiliation was not yet done. He went on.
“You’re listening to The Traffic Tracker,” – he hesitated, but only for a instant, because he was still a professional – “sponsored by Killincarrig Prunes, Because We Care About Easing Your Movement.”