Sunday, February 27, 2011

Blinded By the Light

The Grand Canyon wasn't my idea; it was a compromise based on the fact that I'd not yet been and Linda hates to go anywhere I've already passed within a hundred miles of. She has this belief that if I've seen it, I couldn't possibly enjoy it again so we must do something new each time we set out on an adventure. The problem is of course that I've been to every state in the continental US, most of the Canadian Provinces and the larger cities in Northern Mexico...so we have limited choices. For whatever reason, the GC had never struck me as a destination; only a nice topic for a coffee table picture book. So naturally, we just had to go.

It was for hiking that she really wanted to visit the park; she'd heard about the trails to the
Colorado river and really wanted to clomp down a few. My feet will hardly hold me up anymore so it was obvious all along that I wasn't going to join her for anything strenuous. I grimaced through the upper rim from one end to the other in a few mile at a time chunks over the course of the first few days, and when it came time for her big hike-o-rama into the void, I waved her on her way and set out for Phoenix.

It was a crazy idea on my part, but then I'm insane so it was in context. I have relatives in Phoenix; an aunt and 5 cousins and their families who I've tried to make into an extended family for my own benefit for some 25 years. They put up with me certainly, nice folks all. And I'm sure a few of them have actually had a thought or two with my name in it over the decades, but never sose I'd know.

I'd gone to weddings and graduations and just for fun outings nearly 20 of the last 25 years, all on my dime and all because I'd wanted to be there without persuasion. But I'd grown tired of the charade and had decided that my one way street relationships were no longer worth the toll. This was my last time to visit those who'd left home and never come back; my final wave to the family I was never an active part of. They didn't know that, but then, they didn't need to know.

I called my aunt to see if she was available for lunch, it was nearly a 200 mile drive and I'd be really cranky if I'd missed her. She said she'd be at home with bells on, so I set out for the four hour trek.

Flagstaff was gorgeous as always, someday I will live in a mountain town and leave my Minnesota prairie forever.

The trip downhill was uneventful. I've never been a fan of desert scenery, it bores me to tears usually; so I was not surprised that I caught myself nodding off now and then as I plodded along through cactus and tumbleweed filled valleys. I stopped twice for coffee and fresh air, a record for me as I normally will drive all day without even stopping for urine expulsion.

I made record time in spite of the stops, and Joanne and I set out for a local Cracker Barrel. She'd called all her kids to see if they wanted to join us as it was a Saturday afternoon in the summertime so there was nothing beyond work that might stop them. But for some reason all but one were busy that day, so we met her youngest son and had a lovely chat for a couple hours before I had to leave again for the return trip.

Yes, I drove eight hours to have a 2 hour lunch with a woman who has only once called me on the phone to see how I am. It's complicated, but it's over now in any case. All I needed to do was run back up the hill and reconnect with my darling wife and another chapter of my past would be closed for good.

It was about 2/3rds of the way back that it happened, on a stretch of the interstate where the up and downhill lanes separate by a mile rather than a few yards; where the topography gets lumpy and bumpy and the road becomes slightly curvy and the driving becomes a little less boring for just a moment.

I'd been thinking about how much I loved driving my half ton truck, so high off the road, a nice wide track, the leather interior so cool and plush that it could make me feel as if I were in a living room rather than a tin can hurtling along on an ribbon of asphalt. And I'd been noticing how many bugs had made my windshield their final resting place, making it annoying to see through when the sun hit it just right and blurred the smear so to speak.

I had a highballer tractor trailer next to me, which normally made me a tad nervous; not that I'm afraid of trucks or driving in any circumstances, but simply a visceral response to a giant sized box-o-steel within arms length of my baby vehicle at speeds approaching 80 miles per hour. We were neck and neck and cruising along as we bent a little right around a mogul and then up and over a hill.........

I was blind. Absolutely totally blind. My windshield was awash in bright light, glowing as if it was radiating the light from its core. For a moment I froze
I
had
no
idea
what
to
do.

I was a passenger in a self guided rocket, a weapon that would at any moment either blow me and anyone near me to smithereens, or simply leave the roadway airborne, a sheet metal arrow looking for a stack of freshly eroded lava dust to burrow into.

The sound of the semi beside me woke at least one of my senses from its coma, and I quickly looked to my right to see if I'd already drifted in his direction. I was truly helpless, I've never felt more terrified in all my life, but I noted I still had distance; I was still going straight ahead at near 80 miles an hour with no concept of what might be in my way.

I thought about lowering my driver side window and shooting my upper body through the hole, hopefully not just as I passed too close to a light pole or rock wall that I hadn't noticed before visiondeath. I searched my brain for a clear picture of what I'd seen just before the lights came on, a map of the entire area might be good in case I felt the tires leave the ground suddenly or I was dragged under the eighteen wheels of my neighbor and once the dust cleared I'd need to remember where I'd last seen a phone.

Every second that passed I thought would be my last second in the dark, and every second that it continued in spite of my best optimism, I thought it would be my last second on earth. I'd love to say that I worried about taking someone with me, but it was no time for altruism, it was just my life that mattered at that moment.

After what had to be 30 seconds I nearly slammed on the brakes to take my chances that there was no one behind me so close as to die swerving out of my way. I couldn't believe nothing had happened yet; that I was still alive, that I was still head to head with the truck, that I was still blind as a bat and hadn't yet figured out a way to overcome the problem.

I'd had dreams like this; where I'm behind the wheel of a car that's moving, albeit slowly, and as we approach some obstacle that I need to either steer away from or stop for, I find I'm paralyzed and helpless to react. In very slow motion I sweat every moment, straining to move either my hands or feet to no avail and finally crash into whatever it is that's facing me. A minor difference this time, I was not paralyzed certainly, not physically at least. Well, two minor differences I guess; this was not a dream.

I started to lower the window thinking I might try what I'd thought of a lifetime earlier; to blow my head outside and try to drive like a mailman might with my body stretched parallel to the roofline. But a second thought crossed my mind just before I thrust left. What if my sudden movement invariably pulled my wrist left as well, and because of the very movement I attempted with thoughts of saving myself, I pulled the vehicle cross lane and either flipped my way down the road all the way to the pearly gates, or whipped the opposite direction and took the truck driver along with me.

In
Out
In
Out
In

I cou.....

Just then the windshield cleared as another hump of desert dirt blocked the lowering sun and released my windshield from its fiery clutch. I was stunned for a moment, it was incredible that I'd come this far, perhaps another mile gauging speed and time, without straying from my position in the left lane one iota. I was center up, well away from the truck who was still nose to my grill as if we were tethered together, and still hurtling uphill as if nothing had happened.

I looked in my mirror to see how many people might have been affected had I screwed up.......

just as the lights came on again and I was fucked for a second time.

I could rewrite the few paragraphs that preceded this, as pretty much the exact same things went through my mind. This time I could add "this can't possibly be happening a second time", but for all intents and purposes it was virtually the same inner voice screaming at me all the way, with all the same information and worthless suggestions on hand.

The only change was in the time period; it was over in half the distance and this time I damn near stood on the brakes to get behind my buddy truck-boy and look for an exit where I might have a cold, stiff Dew and wait out the killer sunset.

I managed, as there was actually a tiny town and convenience store about a mile up the road where I stood outside my wanna be coffin for a half hour, hands shaking and sucking down cigarettes like they were cans of oxygen on a hydrogen planet.

It was dark by the time I reached Flag and started down the two lane road through the high desert forest that spans that part of northern
Arizona. I had to slam brakes and swerve at least a half dozen times for elk and other critters over the hour or so it took to make that 55 miles. But it was nothing really. I could see the things, if I was going to hit them, at least I'd have known it in advance. And that's more comforting than you could ever imagine.

God had my number that day, and couldn't cash in. Maybe I've got chores yet; I'll have to figure out what they are.

1 comment:

  1. Serious brown trouser time.

    I once drove 12 miles with my head out of the driver's side window becasue the fog was so dense i couldn't see past the bonnet.

    ReplyDelete