How I survived I-95

I made it to Massachusetts two days ago in the early evening. After dropping my cats off in kitty prison to assuage my mother’s allergies, I returned home, reunited and snuggled with my cherished Labrador, showered and ate homemade mushroom barley soup, and promptly slept for 14 hours with hardly a stir.

I survived the toll of Oklahoma, made it through the Midwest despite howling winds bullying my tiny car and calling out admonitions against traveling any further east.

Did I listen?

No.

I kept right on driving.

I experienced a low point in Pennsylvania when I missed the “correct” highway that would link me in a reasonable fashion with Massachusetts. Instead, I called my dad, my personal GPS (thanks, dad!), who guided me increasingly smaller highways, through a final toll of $21.90, where I handed the toll collector a $20 bill, a few pennies and a couple nickels, apologized for having nothing more in the way of payment, and continued penniless in search of New York State.

At the lowest of the low, I was driving along a two-lane highway with stoplights, cursing my existence, and cursing Pennsylvania, when I finally reunited with a multi-lane thoroughfare.

Zen and the art of following scenic, twisting back roads to cross the country I guess I am not.

There were many concerned for my safety driving alone, but the only time I truly feared for my life was after handing off my $5 at the end of the Tappan Zee Bridge and entering a realm of driving I thought I might not survive.

East coast drivers are crazy!

I mean, they are totally insane.

Ok. Yes. I grew up in Massachusetts. I have within me the capacity for this breed of craziness, perhaps.

But truly, I am an outsider observing a foreign phenomenon, and it is called East Coast Driving (ECD).

I could feel the energy change in an instant. The leisurely 2-3 miles above the speed limit on cruise control was no match for Connecticut. Oh no! This would not do. Not if I wanted to live to see another day.

I stepped it up to 10 miles above the speed limit, feeling reckless in my wanton disregard for the law, but this still would not suffice.

I feared I would get run over by the vehicles behind me. Cars were speeding past at what must have been 20-25 miles above.

Ok. 15 miles.

Police cars were even flying by.

I chewed one nail down to the quick.

Then another.

I was completely surrounded by lunatics. Where were they all going so very quickly, a convention of how to make the most efficient use of time? What would they do with all of this time saved by risking life and limb on I-95?

At one point, I decided that I should count my blessings and pull into the nearest rest area to recuperate before continuing on. I would find no respite there. No soon had I committed to the service exit ramp, but a tiny red sedan came zooming in front of me, screeched to a halt, and started up again engines revving just before I ran into its already well-worn bumper.

As my friend Malcolm (2012) says, “Massachusetts drivers. They start fast, they drive fast, they stop fast” (2012, personal communication).

This game of chase and surpass the slow Prius from Alaska was even more successful than the two cups of coffee I had already imbibed. My senses were alert, hair on end, ready to drive as though my life depended on it.

And it did.

Four fingernails later, I left I-95 and to follow the familiar, well-trod roads of my youth.

The cranberry bog had finally succumbed. A large, white sign advertising a housing development perched triumphantly in front of the sagging, marshy field.

Past each site altered by development, I imagined how it looked before. Of course, my own memory of before was one undoubtedly altered by development, but such is life in this world with humans as self-nominated stewards.

Even with change, there is comfort in familiarity.

If you had told me I would be driving home after so many years away, I may not have believed it. But then again, with so much flux and so many figure eights around the globe, why not?

After all, in the words of T.S. Eliot,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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