Driving the speed limit of 70 mph on a controlled access highway in the right lane, I usually marvel at the safety and efficiency of our transportation network. Then something brings me back to reality. Black ice appears on the roadway. A forty ton truck rides my bumper. Fourteen vehicles approach me from the rear at ninety miles per hour, filling both lanes, crowding each other and ready to knock a mere speed-limit-driver off the road like a billiard ball into a corner pocket. Or this.
All of the above occur when I approach a merging ramp with another semi-trailer truck entering with increasing speed on my right. The merging driver seems oblivious to my dilemma; he just keeps accelerating. I cannot slow down without a major jolt from the rear. I cannot move into the left lane without crashing into a series of vehicles much larger and going much faster than I am. Any precipitous move, and whatever control I still have of my car slides into the careening spin of an ice cube on glass. What can I do? Pray.
The video of a hundred ninety vehicles sliding and crashing into each other on icy, foggy Interstate 94 in January in central Michigan appears on my memory screen. One man miraculously survived, although his car was a pancake between two large trucks, and it took hours to release him from his compacted metal and plastic prison.
Another memory flashes. We are driving on Gold Camp Road around Pike’s Peak between Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs, Colorado. The road is a narrow one-way gravel road with no apron, only a steep rocky cliff on the right and towering rock on the left. We come to a cut through the rock of about a hundred yards, and barreling straight at us, the wrong way on this one-way road, is a large gravel hauler, traveling at high speed. Jan is driving, since I enjoy the scenery too much to be trusted. Jan has no room to turn, no place to go, yet the truck does not slow down. We pray. Jan pulls as close to the right edge as she can, scraping the tires against the rock, and the truck rushes on past, just lightly touching the rear view mirror. Whew!
The desire for the German Autobahn reasserts itself, where there is no speed limit, but courtesy reigns. People maintain the stopping distance between vehicles, yield to the person on the left, and slower traffic stays to the right.
How many thoughts and memories can one stuff into the last second or two of life? Many, but fortunately for me the first scenario is a dream. This time. It has nearly happened, but not quite. There has always been just enough room to squeeze by, and just enough traction to stay in control or slide off into the right ditch. I wake up and I am still breathing and my heart is still pounding, but I am also still trying to decide what I can do when there is nowhere to turn.