Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Terror on the Highway
I left the house to ominous weather this morning. The sky was dark, like it would be in the minutes just before dawn, but it was lit up every five seconds or so by bolts of lightning. It was raining, but not so much, not yet.
That would change.
It changed almost immediately, actually, as I made my way down the route that takes me to interstate 81. It began to rain, hard. I realized that I was moving through moving storm fronts, so I figured I would be passing through lots of clumps of rain/not rain. And I did. But the lightning was the more spectacular part of the trip. Every time the rain slowed and the clouds parted to grant me a view of the Wyoming Valley and parts North, I could see bolts of lightning striking all across the landscape ahead. Wow, I wouldn't be surprised if the plant is on fire when I get there, I thought.
I nearly didn't get there.
Interstate 81 is one of the major North-South vehicle corridors on the East Coast. Stretching from Tennessee along the Appalachian Mountains up to the Canadian Border, it is heavily travelled by commuters and truck traffic alike. Most drivers along the stretch I travel have learned the harsh realities of truck traffic: Trucks are big. Trucks are heavy. Trucks take up a lot of space. Trucks block lanes. Trucks go slow when they're in front of you, and fast when they're behind you. And they make a big SPLOOOSH when they drive past you in heavy rain..
It was raining pretty hard as I approached Pittston, the next stop on 81 past Wilkes-Barre. Visibility was poor, and traffic was moving slow. I was seriously considering pulling off the side of the road until the rain subsided. But a truck came to my rescue, a big tanker truck covered with lights that was moving at a reasonable speed in front of me. Focus on the lights, I thought. Follow the lights. Keep your eyes on the lights.
Suddenly there was a big tractor-trailer passing me on the left. SPLOOOOSH, it said, as it dumped hundreds of gallons of water onto my windshield. I was blind.
Crapcrapcrap, I thought. Jesus H. Christ. I couldn't see a damned thing. My windshield wipers were useless. I'm gonna die, aren't I? I knew there was a bridge up ahead. Stay on target. Find the lights again. Do not let them get too close. Do not let them get too far away. Do not let them drift left or right. You'll be fine. Yeah, sure, as long as the tanker truck doesn't sail off a cliff, with me following close behind.
I found the lights. I couldn't see anything but the lights. I had the wipers on high and they gradually started to clear the grey mass of water that was blocking my view. I could see the tanker truck in front of me. I could see the traffic on my left. I could see...
Oh, crap again. I could see that I had just followed the tanker off the exit ramp for Pittston.
If I tried to pull back onto the highway I would have died. Traffic was too heavy, visibility too poor. It was better this way. The off-ramp for Pittston leads to Route 315, a fairly major road in its own right. A road that, just a mile along, has an on-ramp back onto 81. There are advantages to having wandered around and gotten lost on many of the side roads along my commute. After seventeen years of commuting and about 400,000 miles under your belt, you learn a few things.
By the time I got back on 81 the rain had subsided. I rejoined the flow and continued along on my morning commute. My detour had barely cost me a minute, and had put me on a less-congested road while the worst of the weather passed.
Still, I nearly died. That kinda sucked.
I wonder where that trucker was going in such a big hurry that he had to pass so much traffic in such conditions? I wonder how everyone else whose windshields he flooded made out? I wonder how many accidents, how many deaths he'll be responsible for in his career?
I was nearly one of them today.