dangerous commutes

It took awhile to get to this point, but sitting here on June 2nd, I feel relatively confident that it probably won’t snow again here anytime soon. I’m getting ready for my second Minnesota summer – mosquitos and mini donuts and loon calls and all.

A couple days ago, a crazy thing happened to me on my way to work. It was 7:30 in the morning, and I was heading south on the highway to the Zoo. I’d run through all of the new episodes for my favorite podcasts that week, so I was listening to the Splendid Table, which is definitely a second choice podcast for me, plus it always makes me hungry. The speed limit at this point is 65. I was in the left lane, going about 68 miles per hour, learning about quinoa.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noted a car going wildly fast.

Everything that happened next took place in maybe three to ten seconds, tops, but it is spread out neatly in my memory. The car was shooting off the entrance ramp, cutting across the lanes of traffic in a perpendicular line. “Damn,” I thought to myself, “it looks like he’s gonna head straight for the left lane,” which was my lane, so I tapped my brakes a little bit. He was probably driving at least a hundred miles an hour, maybe more. Maybe it just seemed that way, I don’t know. I don’t know much about cars, and all I noticed about this one was that it was a glacial blue color, and it looked expensive and new. I associated it with wealth.

At that point he might have hit the guard rail, or maybe his speed combined with a sudden jerking of his steering wheel was the problem. Whatever caused it, his car suddenly spun around, and now he was spinning, and now he was facing back towards the entrance ramp, still perpendicular to traffic, and so now I was slamming on the brakes as hard as I could. In what must have been milliseconds I realized that braking was not going to cut it, and I cut my wheel right as hard as I could. I swung around the front of his icy blue car with inches to spare. I thought I was going to hit, but somehow I zoomed past his front bumper. The combination of braking and a sharp turn made me fishtail a little bit, but I straightened it out, and as I was whipping past, I finally checked my rearview mirror. There was an enormous white pickup truck behind me in the lane I was racing into, ladders strung on the sides, two guys going to work.

Thank god they weren’t deep in conversation, or texting, or changing the radio station, because the driver hit their brakes hard as well, and – somehow – suddenly – we were all just driving forward again.

I pulled over on the side of the highway because I needed to stop shaking, needed to return my breath to a normal speed and rhythm.

I don’t know what the hell that guy was doing. Intoxication seems unlikely at 7:30 am, but you never know. He did something insane and somehow didn’t kill anyone.

Heading against the current is a dangerous proposition.

Two weeks ago, we went backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains and saw a flurry of steelhead salmon trying to make their way upstream. They had the fates of countless eggs, all of their offspring, lying dependent on their strength and safety. We squatted on rocky outcroppings over Little Carp River and watched fish after fish throw themselves from their writhing underwater knot of brethren into the clear sunny light above. They’d twist, for a moment completely airborne, and then beat their fins and tail furiously, doing everything they could to propel themselves up a six-foot, rocky waterfall. And in seconds, the current would catch up to them and smash them back into their dark, crowded pool once more. They would rest, and two minutes later, they’d try it again.

I watched for several minutes and then kept walking barefoot upstream along the river, enjoying the hot rock and the tiny pockets of moss and ferns. Suddenly a shout and a gleeful whoop. I looked back over my shoulder and saw Niko, Matt, and Artemis cheering and grinning. “One of them made it!” Niko bellowed happily.

In this case, the successful attempt at going what seems like precisely the wrong way made us all feel like celebrating.

Salmon Falls

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One thought on “dangerous commutes

  1. Clever essay, linking the two things, but it made this father’s heart quake. Please, STAY OUT OF THE LEFT LANE unless you absolutely need to be there. On a multi-lane expressway, there be dragons. Right lane mostly, middle lane sometimes, far left lane, almost NEVER.

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