Friday, September 5, 2014

MORE FROM THE INTERSTATE - Could this be the start of a series?

Several times a week, I work as a contract employee for the State of Washington.  This involves a 30+ mile commute to the State Capitol in Olympia.  I find the interstate is a great source of literary inspiration: both on things I am working on, and on the commuting experience itself.

In August of 2013 I wrote Beauty on the Interstate OR Cool Is as Cool Does. I thought it was a singular essay, but this week I had another inspirational experience on the highway that made me think that maybe this might become and on-going series.  Here's the next installment:

Beauty on the Interstate OR The Red Car
By Judith Cullen
© 2014

The Highway is a great rolling stage for drama.  Some are grand and expansive, complete with flashing lights, bells, and confrontations of life and death. Others of these rolling epochs are simple moments of delight and justice, for where would tragedy be without comedy? – The opening of the first Beauty on the Interstate tale

Photo by Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons
It really started with a dump truck – one of those double carriers.  I was behind it in lane 2, the second from the left.  I always seem to be in lane 2 when these things happen.  Already nursing a crack in my windshield, I did not really want to wait and speculate as to whether the truck was hauling bark, or gravel, or tiny bits of whatever the hardest substance in the universe is these days.  I decided to get around it.  Traffic was moderate, so I moved into lane 1 and accelerated. 

As my speedometer skimmed 70, a car came up behind me.  It was the same model as my own, but a decade younger. As I passed the dump truck and was looking for clearance to move in front of it, the car behind me shot into lane two, walking away from me like I was standing still.  That meant it was doing about 80 in a 60 mph zone. 

I was disappointed to notice that the driver was female, as she zoomed ahead of me.  This sort of “me first” behavior is far more usual in the male of the driving species.  Certainly her dashboard clock still worked.  I doubt her car stereo was stuck at “commuter volume.”  It is a decibel level only tolerable on the freeway, and the reason that I never play the radio with passengers in the car: it’s too much work to clean up all that mess from people’s ears bleeding.  Clearly her passenger side view mirror was not taped in place after an unfortunate encounter with a ferry boat stanchion.  Her car was a gleaming, deep cherry red.  I bet she was still making payments on it.

I grumbled once more at “some drivers” and watched her disappear down the vast concrete fairway of the interstate, securely surrounded by her “bubble of me.” I took my intended place in front of the dump truck, determined to shake it off. Suddenly another car whizzed by me on the right.  “Jeez!  What the . . . ? Has someone taped a sign on my rear bumper announcing ‘PASS ME, I’M MIDDLE AGED’?”  Then I realize that this new speedster is a State Patrol Car.  They get to “whiz” legally. It’s their job!

In the mean time, the Red Car is firmly ensconced in lane 1, and a minivan has pulled in behind her.  You can feel the median speed on the highway sloooooow as everyone becomes conscious of the State Patrol Car.  Moving into the left lane, the Patrol Car lights up in a flash of rotating glory, and pulls the minivan over.

I do not like to think of myself as a spiteful person.  I am sure none of us really do.  But I must confess, I found myself hoping that she in the Red Car experienced at least a millisecond of panic when that constabulary light bar ignited into bright, punitive life.

The moment passed, and we all continued on our appointed paths.  I mused that once the imminent danger of the State Patrol has passed, she probably put “pedal to the metal” and continued zooming off into the wild blue yonder. My destination was 30 miles away, so all sight and thought of the Red Car dissolved within ten minutes.  Classical music continued to thunder at “commuter volume” as my mind began to lock onto the tasks ahead of me at journeys end.  The music was a favorite piece by Aaron Copland, El Salón México, and its familiar syncopated rhythms always inspire me, happily energizing my day.

A half an hour later, as I pulled onto the off ramp, my focused reverie snapped into a state of wonderment.  There she was, the Red Car, right in front of me exiting the highway.  Surely it could not have been the same car, but it was.  I guess the State Patrol Car was more than a momentary panic; it was a wake up call.

This was very satisfying, and it humanized the Red Car’s driver. She was not one more thoughtless commuter, doggedly bound on her own singular journey without regard for anyone else.  She once more became a member of the community of humanity: someone who, from time to time, gets so wrapped up in their own concerns that they forget that there others around us who believe their lives are equally important.

I hope, next time my turn for vehicular revelation comes around, that I am afforded as much grace as the Red Car.

No comments:

Post a Comment