Nancy Robards Thompson
Nancy Robards Thompson


Jaunty Post

Night on the road


Are we cursed? First, Kristan narrowly escapes drowning Down Under. Now, I have my own misadventure to report.

Here’s my story:

I’ve posted several times about my daughter going off to college this year. I was happy when she chose a university two hours away from home – far enough to have that away-at-college experience, but close enough for us to see her more frequently than the major holidays. She’s double majoring. Flute performance is one of her fields of study. So, that means there are lots performances…LOTS of them. Proud parents that we are, we try our darndest to make it to as many of her concerts as possible.

Staying overnight in a hotel every time can get expensive. So, my husband and I decided to try driving the 100 miles up and back in the same day. We’ve done it before and it’s worked. Since the performances are usually at 8 pm, that means we can be on the road by 11 pm and home by 1 am. It’s a haul, but I’d make the trip on bicycle if it meant even a couple of hours with my girl. Well…last Saturday when we went up to see her perform with the university orchestra, a bicycle might have been a more reliable mode of transportation. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the most part, it’s not a bad trip. It involves traveling two major highways: let’s call them Good High and Hell’s highway. Good Highway is a toll road. Usually, it’s not very crowded and the drivers are generally considerate. On the way up to her school, Good Highway dumps everyone onto Hell’s Highway, the road where people drive like demons trying to escape the flames. Not only do people drive fast and reckless on this road, in every other car it seems like the driver is texting or eating or doing something that causes him or her to weave all over the road. Once, I saw a driver reading a newspaper while driving in excess of 80 mph. About every fourth car seems to contain someone who is texting and eating simultaneously – and weaving all over the road. You think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. It scares me to death. I hold my breath the entire time I drive that road. Okay, now I’m exaggerating. I realize that holding my breath while driving wouldn’t be a smart thing to do. I might pass out and veer into the path of one of those texting-eating-weaving idiots, have a wreck and all my nightmares about this road would come true.

Believe me, I don’t ever want that to happen because Saturday night, even though I was breathing normally and driving carefully, I experienced my own mini-version of a Hell’s Highway nightmare: I was driving, my dad and my husband were in the car, too. I had volunteered to drive home since I’m the resident night owl and both of them had conked out within five minutes of getting into the car. About fifteen miles along Hell’s Highway, the electronic display panel on the dash started beeping and flashing a message that I couldn’t read because I was driving seventy-five miles per hour and dared not take my eyes off the road. The noise was so obnoxious, I thought surely one of the two men in the car would wake up. Not so. I think someone’s snoring was actually drowning out the racket. So, I yelled “Hey! Wake up! Help me figure out why the car’s beeping!”


I managed to rouse them, but at first, they didn’t seem too concerned, despite the fact that the noise was driving me insane. Finally, they figured out that the flashing message said CHECK CHARGING SYSTEM. The way the darn car was beeping, it seemed pretty urgent. Did I mention that by this time, the nearest exit was twenty-five miles down the road? No? Yep, it was.

So the car was beeping and I was yelling, “WHAT DO I DO?” My husband and dad were yelling, “KEEP DRIVING!” And I was yelling, “MAKE THE BLASTED BEEPING STOP!” They didn’t know how. So I kept driving.

About five miles down the road the beeping stopped on its own. Good, right? No, BAD! All of a sudden the gage that monitored the car’s battery charge started falling toward the negative. My headlights began to dim. Did I mention that by this time we were on a rather dark stretch of Hell’s Highway?  No? Yep, we were.

Traffic was very light that night (thank goodness) and there were no streetlights along this stretch of the road. At this point, the highway was divided and lined by trees on both sides (the passenger’s and driver’s side of the road) so you can’t even see the headlights of the oncoming traffic. It was the darkest, scariest place I’ve been — possibly ever — and all of a sudden I was without any headlights.

My husband and dad started yelling, “PULL OVER! BUT SLOW DOWN BEFORE YOU DO BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THE SHOULDER IS LIKE AND THE CAR MIGHT FLIP!” (Gee, thanks, guys! No pressure.) “BUT DON’T SLOW DOWN TOO MUCH BECAUSE A CAR MIGHT FLY UP BEHIND YOU AND NOT SEE YOU SINCE YOU DON’T HAVE TAIL LIGHTS EITHER.”(Of course. This was Hell’s Highway and the person who hit us would probably be texting for a midnight booty call while noshing on a bucket of chicken.)

On my first approach to land safely on the shoulder without flipping the car or getting rear-ended, I saw the vague outline of something big and dark heaped in my path. I’m guessing it was a tire shed by a semi-truck or maybe a giant garbage bag… probably containing the bodies of the last people who broke down in those parts. I will never know because I didn’t have any headlights. I swerved back onto the road and narrowly avoided hitting it. Then, I had just taken my foot off the gas and swerved onto the shoulder again when the most miraculous thing happened: my lights came back on. I yelled, “WHAT DO I DO?” My husband and dad yelled, “KEEP DRIVING!”  So, I kept driving.

I was also uttering the Lord’s Prayer and making bargains with God that if we didn’t die on Hell’s Highway and end up in a garbage bag I would… Well, I’m not going to tell you what I promised, because about five miles farther down the road, the headlights went out again, and we went through the same swerve-onto-the-shoulder-only-to-have-the-lights- miraculously-come-back-on -WHAT DO I DO? – KEEP DRIVING! – swerve-back-onto-the-highway routine. This happened THREE more times before we finally made it to the exit where there was a 24-hour truck stop, but no all-night mechanic. Of course not. Not at midnight in the wee hours of Sunday morning in the middle of nowhere.

I sat in the car with the engine running, headlights off, doors locked, while my husband and dad went into the truck stop restaurant to see if they were serving up miracles. Finally, several minute later, they came back to the car with the only alternative: there was a hotel/motel down the road a few miles. I couldn’t believe that they wanted to chance it and get back on the highway, but really, our only other option was to spend the night in the truck stop diner. For the record, I would’ve stayed at the truck stop all night before I would’ve called my daughter to venture out onto Hell’s Highway in the middle of the night to come and rescue us. I suppose she could’ve rounded up friends, but then there wouldn’t have been room for the three of us and her friends in her small car. No, it was better to chance making it to the next exit. Plus, by this time, we had come out of the dark stretch of highway; this portion was lit much better. We had to go for it.

Strangely enough, we made it to the next exit (three or four miles down the road) without losing our lights. Good, right? Well, not exactly.

I had always wondered and worried a little about the hotel/motels along Hell’s Highway. Who stayed in those places? Did they really get enough business to keep them afloat, especially in this economy?  I soon learned that I’d been worrying for naught. There were three hotel/motels off this exit…and they were ALL FULL. What??? Who stayed in these places? In the middle of March in the middle of nowhere, for goodness sake. It wasn’t exactly a haven for spring breakers.

Thinking it was a fluke, we drove to the next exit (again, with full headlights). The four hotel/motels here were ALL FULL, too?? What the heck?? Were they kidding? Apparently not. In fact, as it turned out, it was a rather festive weekend off Hell’s Highway in the middle of nowhere: There were gun and horse shows happening (two separate events…just to clarify) and there were go-cart races. I kid you not. The woman at the front desk of the last hotel/motel distinctly said, “Go-cart races.” And apparently they were popular enough to entice a bunch people to spend the night in the middle of nowhere. For a few bleak moments, it appeared that we might be spending the night in the car.

Just as we were entertaining that option, a man walked into the hotel/motel with a stack of business cards for another hotel/motel and said they had three rooms available and asked if the night manager would refer people to them. He was our savior. But then we realized that the hotel/motel with the vacancies was two exits back. In the other direction. On the opposite side of the interstate from the truck stop where we’d first hobbled off the highway.

Long story short, we doubled back and made it. And the next day another miracle happened: We found a Firestone station that opened at 8am on Sunday morning. They took us right in. The car’s alternator was shot. The mechanic told us the reason the car’s headlights came back to life after I veered off the road was because when I took my foot off the gas, the car had enough time to idle (even in those few seconds) and recharge the battery with enough juice for us to limp down the road a few more miles. So, at the truck stop,  when I sat in the car with the engine running while the guys figured out what we were going to do, that provided enough juice to carry us down and back two more exits.  Who knows if we could’ve made it home in fits and starts?  I didn’t want to chance it. Not in the middle of the night. Not even if we were within ten miles of Good Highway. The nightmare on Hell’s Highway had given me such a fright, I just wanted to be somewhere safe and off the road.

The experience was nerve racking, but, of course, it could’ve been much worse. Disastrously worse. We could’ve stalled out on that dark, scary stretch and ended up road kill. When the headlights first went out, I truly thought that would be our fate. I also thought: So, this is why people carry emergency flares. But later we mutually decided that flares might have set those dry trees along Hell’s Highway on fire and the fire would’ve created smoke which would’ve obscured everyone’s vision – even those with working headlights – and wrecks would’ve ensued. I’m serious. It’s happened on that road before. Thank goodness it didn’t happen again. And thanks to a few miracles, we survived unscathed.

Still, I’m thinking a hotel in the town where our daughter goes to school might be in order after those evening performances. But when I start thinking that way, I feel as if I’m becoming my grandmother. Once, she got snowed in for two days at an airport where she was supposed to catch a connector flight. It happened one time. After that she refused to fly in the winter because she was scared to death that she would be stranded again. That was back in the days when the airlines put you up in a hotel for your trouble.

If you were me, what would you do? Would you play it safe like my grandma, who, by the way was a lovely lady. I loved her very much. Or would you laugh in the face of your fear and continue to brave Hell’s Highway at midnight?

In celebration of still being alive, I will give away not one, but TWO books on my back list to one person who posts.

One last quick note, I didn’t get a chance to post the name of my last winner because that was the Sunday that we got home after our harrowing misadventure. I’ll post that winner’s name this Sunday along with today’s winner.

39 thoughts on “Another Jaunty Cheats Death

  1. OMG, N. I’m so glad you are ok. I’ve travelled on Hell’s Highway a lot when we lived in Texas and would come back to Florida to visit family. I think I’d get my car tuned up (yours probably is now) and try the trip again now before ruling out the midnight drives. But I’d definitely make sure one of the menfolk stayed away until you were on the toll road. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kathy! The strange thing is that my DH had the car checked about two weeks before our trip. Car part and inner workings are a big mystery to me. Are they fine until they’re not? Or did our mechanic just miss this one?

  2. Lynn Holt says:

    What a scary time. Bless your heart. Here’s my suggestion: Real estate is an all time bargain. Mortgage rates are miniscule. If at all possible, buy a studio apartment in Darling Daughter’s college town. You could rent it out to other parents in similar straights when you aren’t using it. Tons of tax deductions–No midnight drives.

    1. That’s a great idea, Lynn. It would be a nice writing retreat, too. 🙂

  3. Terrifying! Good Lord! Glad you’re okay, and SO glad you weren’t alone (not that the boys were much help, but still…). So if I almost drowned, and you almost ended up in a trash bag, and bad things happen in three, who’s next among the JQs to wrangle with Death?

    1. No, Kristan, I won’t allow it! This scary trend ends with us. And, yeah, how about the boys?? They were truly sleeping on the job, huh?

  4. Kristan – bite your tongue!

    Nancy – I’m so glad everything turned out ok. What a harrowing night! Don’t you just wish we had decent mass transit in this country?? Then you could just get on the train and sleep for the duration. Would be so much better!

    1. Margo, just yesterday I was talking to another friend about the beauty of mass transit. That would be the answer to many a prayer. There is a bus, but it only runs once a day between our city and the college. Sadly, the times don’t work for the evening concerts.

  5. EllenToo says:

    Your “adventure” is the very reason I drive a car with OnStar. I am alone on most of my trips here and there and have been on Hells Highways.
    I am very glad things turned out well for you and yours.

    1. Thank you, Ellen. Safe travels to you.

  6. pearl says:

    What an experience. Make sure your car is tuned up and you can then go without a worry. But during the winter perhaps stay overnight every so often so you don’t have to endure the horror every time on the highway.

    1. Great advice, Pearl. Thank you!

  7. diane says:

    Horrible to learn about this dreadful drive. Scary and a nightmare. I would stay over in the town whenever I could, and rent a small unit for the duration since your daughter will be there for 4 years and it is economical as well.

    1. Good idea, Diane. I’ll look into that.

  8. eap says:

    I would book a hotel.

    1. I think staying over might be a good idea, Eap. At least every other time to lower the odds.

  9. Shana Shana says:

    Wow! That’s amazing, Nancy! What an ordeal, but great driving and keeping your cool.

    1. Thanks, Shana! I hope it was a one-time event.

  10. Melissa says:

    Oh my, that was nerve wracking. I would find a hotel or bow to my husband’s driving ability. I hate driving at night, and I’m not a wimp, my depth perception stinks after dusk. Cars are wonderful, but I would rather a horse and buggy. Cheaper to fix. I’ve had my full share of mishaps over the last two weeks , so I empathize with you, not fun at all.

    1. Melissa, a horse and buggy looks very attractive right about now. Thank you for your kind words. 🙂

  11. Lorelei says:

    SO glad everything turned out fine in the end, but what a scare, indeed! I’d say if the car is tuned up and in good condition, I’d drive back, I’m brave like that (bc my hubby is a McGyver and will save the day… or night) Plus he’s the one that always drives. But I may make it a mini vacay and stay at a hotel nearby if not too expensive.
    Once for my Bday we went to Ft Lauderdale Feb 1-2 without reservations because like you, we thought, Nah, not high season or anything…. WEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLLLLL, Singer Jimmy Buffet had a concert that day and we couldn’t find a darn room! Almost headed back home at 11PM. We managed to find a room in Coral Springs when we wanted to stay right by Sawgrass Mills Mall. We had to wait til 1AM for a no show to get the only room available… I never assume anymore. Sat in the lobby for 2 hours waiting. At least the hotel was nice and had hot free breakfast. 😉

    1. Lorelei, you are such a good sport! And I love how you call your hubby McGyver!

  12. Sandi in OH says:

    That was really scary. I’m glad that everything worked out well. I would not be like your grandmother and stop traveling by any mode of transportation because of one incident. If you do it enough you become a prisoner in your own home. I’d probably book a motel. Our grandniece is graduating from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester (she plays the violin). We are going there on the 14th to hear her graduation recital which starts at 9 p.m. We are booking a motel because it is 4 hours from here.

    1. Sandi, sage words of wisdom. Your grandniece is at Eastman? WOWZA! She must be incredibly talented. That’s one of the most prestigious conservatories in the nation! What does she want to do after she graduates? Congratulations to her and safe travels to you when you go see her.

  13. catslady says:

    I can’t even imagine. I’ve never been much of a driver since I learned later in life and my parents never drove the highways and I have no sense of direction lol. I’m really glad you weren’t in the car by yourself. I don’t think I would have gotten back on the road like you did but thank goodness it all worked out for you. And I give you tons of credit for not just handing it over to your husband. I wish I was that brave!!

    1. Aww, Catslady, thank you. You’re so sweet.

  14. bn100 says:

    Glad to hear you’re okay. Maybe play it safe

  15. Quilt Lady says:

    Well I can say I would have gotten a hotel because I don’t do well driving at night. My son’s collage was only fifty miles away and I tried to only travel there during the day. A few times I had to do it at night. The roads to his college was not good roads to travel either. They were very curvy.

    1. Oh, gosh, Quilt Lady, curvy roads add a whole new element of scary to the equation. At least the roads here are relatively straight. It’s both a challenge and a blessing to have them that close. You want to be with them when you can, but then there’s that drive that stands between you…

  16. Emily McKay says:

    No matter what you decide, I’m glad you’re safe!
    I enjoy driving at night … or at least I used to. I’m the night owl in the family, so I usually don’t mind the driving. The idea of my hubby driving at night scares the crap out of me, though. I’ve seen him fall asleep in front of the tv at 8:00 too many times.

    But, I do think you can buy road flares that are just blinking flash lights … you know, just in case.

    1. Emily, big congratulations to you on finaling in the Rita! Way to go, girl! THE FARM is a fabulous book and this is a much deserved honor. I’ll be there in Atlanta cheering you on.

  17. ellie says:

    Thanks goodness you are safe and well and weren’t alone. I would have my husband drive since it is night and he is an expert driver. But other than that stay overnight and stay safe.

    1. Thank you, Ellie! Thank goodness it’s almost the end of the spring term and we won’t have to worry about that drive for a while after we move her out of her dorm.

  18. Marcy Shuler says:

    Thank goodness you all survived Hell’s Highway, Nancy! But this post sure proves you’re a writer. Even when real life puts you in harrowing situations you can sure tell a captivating story! 🙂

    Personally, I’d brave the highway at night when there are less killer motorists on it.

    1. Marcy, thank you so much for your kind words. Writing is not only my job, it’s my therapy. It’s amazing how it helps to process life’s hiccups.

  19. CateS says:

    Check into renting an RV..or leasing one… I’ve worked for a major university and have had parents buy condos for their kids… ‘free’ place for parental units.. and rent one of the additional bedrooms to help cover the costs..

  20. Marcy Shuler says:

    I forgot to mention this yesterday, but…

    Didn’t Kristan start this chain of three bad things by killing off Jaunty in her book?

    *Marcy runs from the room using her perfected ducking and weaving technique, throwing in a few gazelle like leaps for style points*

  21. Rhonda says:

    Now that sounded like one scary drive. So glad you made it safely. I don’t like driving at night. Next time, maybe a hotel would be better on the nerves!

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