Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Grand Slalom

What a Grand Slalom the drive into work was this morning! I had jokingly told my family members on Facebook that I wanted some of their New England snow, seeing as they’ve all gotten a foot plus the past few days and all I got was rain that melted what little snow cover there had been. But I digress.

This morning I let the girls out, and as they caromed off one another in their surge to the steps, each trying to get down into the yard first … no reason, mind you, just Great Labrador Fun … I noticed it had started to sprinkle. No biggie … the girls are very good at notifying me (and every other non-hearing-impaired organic creature within a two-mile radius) when they want to come in from the rain. So I set about getting ready for work.

An hour later I let the girls in, confirmed the rain had stopped by observing my now non-spotted deck, and headed down to the garage. Can I just say right here how very, very much I happen to appreciate the wonderful architect who invented the attached garage? MWUH! XOXO!!

So I hopped in the Durango and was off. I’ve had the four-wheel drive engaged for the past few days because it handles better in the wind and rain, so it wasn’t until I turned from my street onto the next that I noticed every square inch of roadway was covered in black ice. I’ve never actually seen it like that before. Usually there may be sections of icy areas on the drive, but this time there wasn’t a single, solitary section of the first five and a half miles of my 37 mile commute that wasn’t slicker than snot.

The two mile trip up Main Street to the 1st highway wasn’t that bad. Our little bedroom community has a 25 mph speed limit unless posted otherwise, and it’s enforced strictly enough that every last one of us knows at least three out-of-towners who’ve gotten speeding tickets. It is a rare gathering indeed that doesn’t have someone complaining about the speeding ticket he or she just got on the way over. But I stray again (I do that, don’t you know).

So driving slowly up Main Street was no different than any other day. It was the entrance to the 1st highway that hinted at the fun we were about to have. That was the first accident I came across. For some reason the two vehicles involved decided to pull over to opposite sides of the on-ramp, making maneuvering through them even more hazardous for the rest of us, but you have to cut people some slack when they’ve just been in a fender-bender … they tend to not think very clearly for a moment.

I got up on the highway and proceeded to creep along for the next mile at a steady 5 mph until I passed the little import, inching along with her hazards blinking, who had been slowing both lanes to a crawl. Quick aside: is it really necessary to use hazards when everybody and their brother on the road is in the very same situation? What? Is the drive for that one person that much more hazardous than it is for everyone else on the road? Didn’t think so.

Now I am the first person to admit that I am a driving hypocrite. I will roar blue thunder at all and sundry who do not get out of my way on non-weather-impaired days. If there’s a posted speed limit I exceed it. If there’s a curve I take it hell-for-leather. If there’s a fool blocking my way I have been known to weave through traffic to get around him or her (I do not, however, tailgate, flash high beams, honk, or otherwise harass other drivers … I just want to move, not kill anyone).

My giant pet peeve when driving is the jackass (can’t think of a nicer term, although there are many that are far more offensive) who tools along in the left-hand lane … you know, the Passing Lane, also known as the High Speed Lane … enjoying what appears to be a friggin’ Sunday drive during rush hour. Sigh. Here’s a Rule of Thumb: if you’re being passed on the right, then you’re in the wrong (lane, that is). But still, I wander away from my point, again.

The point being that although I am a horse’s ass of epic proportions during a “regular” drive, I am nothing of the sort while driving in rain, sleet, snow, or ice. At those times I am serenity personified. Right at the get-go I acknowledge that yes, I am going to be late to wherever it is I am driving, and nothing I can do will change that fact. Once that’s out of the way, I settle in and enjoy the challenge. It then becomes more of a live action role-play from some video game than an actual chore.

So this morning, I get past the timid little import, and rev it up until I am fair screaming along at a whopping 12 mph. That lasted a half mile, until I came to the small hill that leads up over the train tracks, otherwise known as Automobile Armageddon. A tractor trailer and a dump truck were sitting in the right breakdown lane, yet another little import was mightily, but ineffectually, trying to buzz up the hill from the left-hand lane, the right-hand lane was little occupied (apparently being between a semi and a madly swerving subcompact is no one’s idea of fun), and there was no left-hand breakdown lane as there is an exit there. So that took a bit of attention to get through.

The next hurdle was a much longer hill that also curves around a very wide corner. This was un-navigable. There were jackknifed tractor-trailers, stalled vehicles, and stranded commuters all over the place, pointed in every direction imaginable … both lanes of travel, plus the left and the right breakdown lanes, plus the grass median between our West-bound side of the highway and the East-bound side. It was ridiculous! I've never seen such a thing! I lost count at 23 vehicles. This is the sort of situation you see on the evening news, happening in some far-off Northwest territory, not here.

By this time I was leading a caravan of six other vehicles, who all followed me across the median to the outer road, which we took to a set of traffic lights further on that dumped us back onto the highway at the top of the hill, just beyond the hazards. Still black ice, but only for the next half mile, when we got onto the Interstate, which was smooth sailing, honking along at an exhilarating 45 mph.

In all it took me 52 minutes to drive 5.5 miles from my home, then another hour to drive the rest of the way to work. I think the next time I wish for New England weather, I’ll contain myself to balmy summer days. That'll learn me.

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