continued from yesterday…
So I set out on the highway, driving slowly and carefully but very pleased with the road conditions. It is still raining, and the roads are certainly soggy, but there are no river rapids to ford, so I drive peacefully.
Just on the other side of West, I notice traffic slowing down. I can’t see far enough ahead to see what is causing the delay, but it is definitely a bona fide traffic jam. I sit back in my seat and a little worriedly watch the cloudy sky darken into night. I call Stephen, who is waiting in Hillsboro to report my slowed progress.
8:30. It is dark, and to call the traffic “slow-moving” is generous. Every ten minutes or so, I might get to take my foot off the brake and move forward a couple of feet, but this is not a great consolation. The local weatherman breaks into regular programming with a news bulletin. “Traffic backed up for 8-10 miles on northbound Interstate 35. Avoid at all costs! Repeat, do not attempt to drive north on I-35.” Thanks a lot.
Now as you may know, I tend to worry about morbid and tragic events happening to me. I begin to imagine how vulnerable I am, sitting here in the middle of nowhere on a dark night, hemmed in on all sides by traffic and flooded ditches. I picture carjackers and molesters coming out from underneath my car and bashing in my windows. What finally distracts me from that possible threat is a much more immediate concern: I now have to go to the bathroom. Dang it!
9:00- I have been avoiding talking on my cell phone because of the hazardous road conditions, but I figured I am safe enough now, since my car is in park. I call my sister to distract myself from my worries, real and imaginary, and we talk for 30 minutes, until she is ready for bed and I begin to worry about killing my phone battery. I am excited because I get to inch forward and I can see a sign for an exit 1/4 of a mile ahead. It is a country road I have never heard of.
9:45- At this point, most cars around me have shut off their engines. People are beginning to mill around in the road (I’m keeping a close eye on them all). Several cars nearby seem to have been caravaning, and the occupants of the cars get out, pull snack food from the trunks, and begin having a tailgate party. A man in the car behind me walks to the grassy median beside the right-hand shoulder and proceeds to take a leak. Lucky! The empty plastic cup that I used for breakfast is looking tempting for my own needs.
I stay in contact with Stephen. We’re both worried about dying cell phones, but we check in periodically. He is talking to his parents and brother, who are watching local news and confirming that traffic situation is bad. I-35 has been temporarily shut down just ahead of me. I turn my own engine off and try to enjoy John Tesh’s intelligence for my life on the radio, as I can’t take any more of the ranting late-night talk shows. I learn that women are more comfortable with talking face-to-face, and that men prefer to stand next to each other and talk sideways. I fight sleepiness.
10:50- Traffic begins to move! I finally drive away from the county road exit sign. For the first time in almost three hours, I can accelerate to more than 10 mph. I call Stephen to let him know I am moving again. I have clearly woken him up.
11:02- Traffic stops again. I think that I am now close to whatever it was that caused the delay in the first place. I can’t tell much of anything.
11:20- Traffic is slow, but moving steadily now. I begin seeing signs for Hillsboro, and I begin to feel joyful.
11:30- A roadside sign makes me want to go postal. “WARNING: SLOW TRAFFIC AHEAD. 40 MPH.”
11:40- I pull into the parking lot where Stephen is waiting. The store has closed, so he is sleeping in his car. There are no signs of life. I wake him up and we drive toward home. It’s a country road, so I drive very slow, but the way is passable. Judging by the way the lights reflect off of my surroundings, I can tell that the fields on either side of me are entirely under water. But my road is not, so I am happy.
12:30- Arrive at home. The dogs are happy to be let in. I take the world’s fastest shower and get to bed at 1:30.