You Take The High Road, I’ll Take The No Road

There gets to a point in life when I say, “why bother?” Especially if it means traveling. I hate getting into the car and going onto the expressway, fighting to not be outmaneuvered by other drivers traveling 10 to 15 miles an hour over the speed limit. No, I’m not that old a fuddy-duddy who drives 10 miles an hour under the limit. I cheat, too, but not as much. Sometimes I get the feeling as if I’m in competition with a whole bunch of Mario Andretti’s.

My (precious) car is kept in an underground heated garage in the condo where I reside. To get to it, I either take an elevator down 4 floors or walk to one of the stairways and trek down the same 4 levels (and it beats walking up those same four flights, let me tell you). Then I get to the car, back out of my assigned stall, press the garage door opener and hope no one is flying down the entrance/exit ramp.

I proceed to the eastern exit into the busy avenue our building parallels. It is a pain in the neck to wait out traffic and maneuver across the divide to make a left turn towards the aforementioned expressway two blocks west. By that point, I have cursed out two drivers for not letting me merge in and another for going too slow as to force both of us to miss the doggone traffic light. By the time I finally get into the right lane on the highway, my blood pressure has gone up and down like a yo-yo a few times to damage even the most reliable seismograph.

Now, as a kid, I loved going on long drive destinations for family vacations. Back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, each summer there was the moment in time when Dad and Mom would get us ready to leave in the middle of a Saturday night to some destination in Michigan or Indiana. It was exciting to not have to be in bed but quietly getting into the family car between one and two in the morning. In those days no one thought about burglars breaking in to a house when the occupants were away on vacation. Our parents just wanted us to not disturb the sleep of neighbors.

A decade later, I was still living at home in my early 20’s and agreed to go on vacation with the parents and three of the siblings in a drive all the way to Toronto, Canada. Despite having a license since I turned 19, Dad was reluctant to let me behind the wheel even in the open road. However, when we finally arrived in Toronto and Dad decided he was not interested in sightseeing but just resting, Ma put her foot down and insisted he hand over the keys to me. As Dad took a nap in the motel room, I explored the nearby area with Ma and my kid brother scouting out grocery stores. We didn’t have any Canadian currency but figured the merchants would jump at the chance to get good old American cash.

The following year, in 1975, my best buddy Perry suggested we drive to Miami, Florida (from Chicago) and stay a week or so. We figured it would take two days in each direction back and forth as well. Perry borrowed his Dad’s car but was also reluctant to let me get behind the wheel. It wasn’t until we drove back home that he finally relented. It isn’t easy being cooped up in a car for several days with another person, especially if you are not related. (As they say, blood is thicker than water.) The tension that surfaced in our 14 hour ride back from a stopover in Birmingham, Alabama, caused a temporary end to the friendship and we didn’t speak to each other for almost two weeks.

About thirty years later, another buddy convinced me to go down along with him to Memphis, Tennessee, in his car. Again, he was over-protective of his auto and refused to let me drive at all going in either direction. He tended to drive a little too fast to my liking so I became a front seat driver who did a lot of praying as well.

Looking back to the late 1980’s, I experienced one out-of-body moment while doing a seven hour solo drive to Minneapolis, Minnesota on business. Luckily, I was on a two-lane highway going in both directions with a very wide grass median in between the two paths. I was plain tired but felt it was necessary to keep moving on as I didn’t want to get to the big city when it was dark or heading into their rush hour. About every 30 miles or so I’d pass a rest area and would think about whether I would regret the quick decision-making. For a moment, I closed my eyes and dozed off. Maybe two seconds later, I realized (or somebody up there did so for me) what was happening and quickly awoke to find that I was drifting off the left side of the road onto the shoulder and almost onto the median. Thankfully there was no other cars around me but I did notice in the rear-view mirror a car about ten lengths back whose occupants must have wondered what was going on. I sheepishly waved that I was okay and had caught a new rush of energy. As soon as the next rest area finally came upon me, I pulled in and took a quick 20 to 30 minute nap.

Then there was the time in that same era where for some unremembered reason Ma and I decided to go to visit my sister and her family who were then living in Elmira, NY. This was planned as a one day, no-stopover driving event. The one negative was that Ma never learned to drive so I was going to put in a yeoman effort. Other than two or three short rest stops, I kept plowing ahead despite at times Ma sleeping in the passenger side in the front seat as well as at times filing her nails (no kidding) from boredom. Needless to say, when we finally arrived at my sister’s house, I was a total nervous wreck who needed five days of complete rest to get back to normal. And, of course, that wasn’t going to happen as we were scheduled to turn around and make the reverse trip two days later.

But the event that finally turned me off from enjoying being behind the wheel happened about three or four years ago. On my way returning from a visit to a client on a wintery, snowy day, while stopped at a red light, the car behind me plunged into the rear of mine. Fortunately I heard advance screeching noises and saw the on-coming car from the rear-view mirror and braced myself for impact. When it happened, there was a popping noise and the trunk hood went up. I waited a minute or two to compose myself while thinking about the apparent damage done to my cherished mode of transportation.

When I got out of the car and stepped to the rear, I was amazed to see that the only damage done was to the muffler assembly and that the trunk was slightly kilter but not crunched. However, the car that hit mine was totally ruined. To make matters worse, it was a classic car driven by someone whom it appeared to be suffering from an epileptic or spastic seizure when he realized he was losing control of his car.

The trauma done to my psyche has been permanent. Ever since then, I cringe every time I am sitting at a stop light and see that the car approaching behind me is not crawling to a stop. As a baby boomer closing in on a special age- no, I am not soon eligible for medicare- I know my reactions are slower than they were half a lifetime ago as well as my patience is much less. Driving is still a necessity to help keep me in control of my choice of things to do and places to go. But, you can take the high road or the low road. I’ll figure a way to get there as well, even if it takes a little longer.

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