Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Coyotes and turkey vultures

I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the 1970's and 1980's, but it wasn't until the late 80's or early 90's that I recall ever seeing a turkey vulture or hearing about coyotes in this area. Nowadays turkey vultures are in the sky every day, and coyotes are common too. It's not like I wasn't paying attention - I have a vivid memory of a Sunday in 1979 1978 when hundreds of seagulls descended on Nanticoke (PARADE magazine featured a cover story on Star Trek: The Motion Picture that day.) So is it my imagination, or are these animals more common in NEPA than they once were?

In a highly peripatetic society, it's increasingly difficult to find many people who have been in any one place long enough to have observed the gradual (and sometimes sudden) changes that the decades have brought. What about you? Have you noticed specific environmental changes where you live?  Leave a comment describing what you've noticed!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Nearly died again

For most of twenty years I had a heck of a commute. From 1992 through early 2012 (with interruptions in 2007, 2010, and large parts of 2011) I drove 33-35 miles each way to and from work, mostly on Interstate 81. It wasn't the worst commute in the world, or the longest; but it was long enough and dangerous enough that it seemed to me that I had a good chance of eventually dying during that trip.

I now have a five mile commute to work, mostly along sparsely-traveled back roads. Dying in traffic is less of a concern.

This weekend I nearly died on my way to my writing group.

OK, my writing group meets in Scranton, and the commute takes me on I-81, so the same issues I had with getting to work apply. But this wasn't even there. This was on the Sans Souci Parkway, a surprisingly deadly four-lane road that connects Nanticoke to Wilkes-Barre. I was making a pit stop there for gas before getting on the highway, at a gas station less than two miles from my house.  To get to the gas station from Nanticoke, you have two options: drive past the gas station to one of the cross-roads or to the Hanover Mall or some other convenient spot, turn around, and make a right-hand turn into the station; or get into the left lane just past the road dividers, wait for oncoming traffic to clear, and make an almost-but-not-quite U-turn into the gas station. Midday on a Saturday, I decided to go for this second option.

And nearly died.

Oncoming traffic was surprisingly heavy for a midday on a Saturday. By "surprisingly heavy" I mean cars and trucks were headed into Nanticoke in ones or twos, but never with enough of a gap between them and the vehicles behind them to make the turn safely. I sat and waited in the left lane, one foot on the brake, turn signal blinking away.

Then I heard the horn.

It sounded far away, but I knew it wasn't. I looked in my rear-view just in time to see a car swerving around me at the last moment. The driver, who I saw out of my right window as he peeled around me well in excess of the posted 45 mph speed limit, was silver-haired and wearing wrap-around sunglasses. I'm not a gambling man, but I'd bet you a dollar he was holding a cell phone up to his right ear, which I couldn't see.

If he had hit me I probably wouldn't have been killed outright, not like the elderly couple who were killed a year and a week ago when a truck made a left turn across their path of travel about two miles down the road.  No, I would have been rear-ended at high speed, maybe clipped on my right rear side, which would have left me rattled but alive - and probably would have pushed me into the path of oncoming traffic. Which might have then hit me head-on on the passenger's side, again possibly not killing me outright - unless I was hit hard enough, especially hard enough to be knocked into the pumps at the gas station I was trying to get to.

Then I would have died.

It didn't happen. The car driven at an excessive rate of speed by a silver-haired guy with wrap-around sunglasses swerved around me at the last possible moment. I'm sure he learned his lesson and will never speed again. And I'm sure all who witnessed this near-tragedy with remember it, and drive more safely all the days of their lives.

Yeah, right.

Sans Souci is French for "without care,"* and that is the attitude of many of the drivers who speed along it, oblivious to speed limits and the presence of other drivers on the road. It's just a matter of time before the next tragic and wholly avoidable deadly accident. After all those years commuting on the highway, it would be ironic if I met my end on a parkway two miles from my house.

*According to Lou Grant in an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it's French for "without Souci." Lou Grant and his wife went on their honeymoon there - maybe to the old Sans Souci amusement park?