I live in a quite little town of just over 50, 000 people. Each work day, I travel to my office in a neighboring little town which also has just over 50, 000 people and back again at day's end. My 24 mile commute is mostly conducted on a stretch of Interstate I-26, which by the way, actually starts where I get on at Exit 1. I say it starts there and eventually ends in Charleston SC because, quite frankly, the pendulum is far off balance when comparing the two ends...but that's another blog down the road (pardon the pun). Plus...as I stated... it's Exit 1.
Don't get me wrong. I love my little town nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee. My commute is decorated with breath-taking scenery that people commuting in other parts of the country would love to see...that is...if I could take time to look.
My stretch of I-26 is more akin to a NASCAR race at one of the circuit's super speedway tracks than a leisurely drive through the countryside. It's white-knuckled driving at its finest and not for the timid or faint of heart. Part of that equation is created by the fact that probably half of one city works in the other neighboring city... and vice-versa. Throw in the natural 'banking' on this particular stretch of interstate and you've got a recipe for some of the best amateur racing since Hanna-Barbera's Wacky Races was cancelled in 1969.
Several months back, I was very content not to get drawn into the daily suicide run. I would cruise along smoothly at the posted speed limit, listen to my iPod via my car stereo (thanks Mrs. Tony C Today), and reflect on the day to be or the day that was...depending on which way I was traveling. Lines of cars would blaze by at blurring speeds, and I would fight back the competitive person I truly am with a God bless you directed at the aggressive drivers. Being an avid Seinfeld fan, I borrowed Frank Costanza's serenity now ...which was a little to 'New Age' for me... and added a more pious tone.
There was a safety issue holding me back too. The tires on my '99 Mazda Protege were a little worse for the wear...well...actually, they were pretty bald. Several hydroplaning incidents during wet weather had contributed to my throttled back demeanor not to mention a number of impromptu prayers.
Then it happened. Rubber only goes so far and mine was passed the point of safe highway travel, so I bought a new set of Goodyear Eagles. The playing field might be changed to near level in my mind and the game had changed.
Now wait a minute. It's not like that first morning I hit the top of the on-ramp at Exit 1 doing 75 mph ready to race. No, it was much more subtle. A guy following right on my bumper trying a 'drop and go' around me to avoid slowing down.
God bless you.
The 'run up, cut over in front of you' move to get around you and the other 4 cars behind you in the left-hand lane.
God bless you!
How about the back and forth lane switcher behind two cars travelling parallel as if to intimidate someone into speeding up or slowing down.
GOD BLESS YOU!
That's was it...I was in the race. After all, I'm a much better driver than 95% of the yahoo's out there, and the Protege still had a little punch left in all 4 cylinders...most of the time. And that funny noise at speeds over 70 mph? Well that's where Michael W. Smith on the old iPod comes in handy. If I can't hear it over W. Smith...is it really a problem?
Fast forward to a mere week ago (okay, I'll stop with the puns now). I leave work ready for the weekend that was just 24 miles ahead. After clearing the speed traps at the city limits, it was on like Talladega.
Just a mile or little more into the jaunt, I looked around to survey the field. I was car number 4 in a line of 9 cars on the inside with a line of 12 riding the right lane...all packed together...all screaming down I-26. A quick glimpse to my immediate right found a Ford Escort Station Wagon circa 1992 running on the emergency spare tire on the right side back driven by a older man in a zen-like state of concentration determined not to lose a spot in line.
God bless you!
Directly behind me was an angry looking man driving a black SUV with a phone in his right hand, a cigarette in his left hand partially out the window... leaving me with the uneasy feeling of wonder to exactly what was steering his vehicle planted on my bumper.
God bless you!
Then it happened. You always hear tragedy seems to occur in slow motion, and to that cliche I can attest because as I watched the tire piece fly up in the air from underneath the vehicle in front of me...it seemed to hang there...suspended...as if it were a movie special effect. A quick mental calculation and I knew the gator (as they're known in my neck of the woods) was going to hit my vehicle somewhere up front. I couldn't swerve right or I'd take out Phil Jackson and his gimped Escort. If I slowed down suddenly, I risked being plowed over by the 5 cars in tow or being the catalyst to a potentially very bad wreck. Besides, the Marlboro Man was too consumed in conversation and nicotine to react quick enough.
Please God, don't let it break my windshield...not the windshield!
I watched the tire chunk reach apex and begin the plunge.
Please not the windshield!
It was heading right for the windshield on my side. With a loud slap, the tire half hit the windshield directly in front of me and half slightly off to the left, quickly disappeared...taking my driver's side mirror with it. Poof...gone.
Shake and bake!
The pack never broke stride as we barrelled toward the weekend. My windshield was undamaged, my right side mirror MIA, and my nerves a little rattled...but I never touched the brakes. I've determined my daily commute will require some regular training to make sure I have the intestinal fortitude to endure and prevail...that and I'll have to drive in the right hand lane until my new mirror gets here. I'm painting '00' and 'Mean Machine' on the Protege along with Ricky Bobby under my door window...
Guess I'd better take this off first...
No, on second thoughts, I'd better leave it...and just forget the new paint scheme.