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.