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Saturday, January 1, 2011

The I 40 parking lot

We planned this auto excursion to Tennessee and back, thinking "surely snow crews would keep the interstate clean" and thought we would be safe and unhindered along our trek.

Well, we weren't quite that gullible. We did reserve in mind the possibility that we would have to take an unscheduled extra day in motel culture. But that would have spoiled our itinerary, which was intended to place us at our daughter's doorstep on her birthday, Dec 31.

So when we left Memphis, we did some serious marathon driving (700 miles one day, 400 the next and 500 for the third). You may have guessed that I am just a tad weary of driving. But I have learned that all driving is not the same. It is not the number of miles alone that make for a tedious driving day. Packed snow and streaks of glare ice which make driving a series of brief bobsled races interspersed with pavement recovery sections to keep us on the roadway--that is what I call tedious.

Somewhere east of Gallup, New Mexico, we took part in a social phenomenon which I will call, "parking lot pageantry". You've heard of the "flash mob" Christmas caroling presentations at various shopping malls. The first one I was aware of happened in Macy's of Philadelphia, and they called it "a random act of culture" when there was a "spontaneous" outbreak of the Hallelujah Chorus. What we experienced was similar inasmuch as unexpected activities took place in a public location that was originally created for a different purpose. The Interstate 40 was created for high speed travel. On this occasion, however, we involuntarily participated in massive parking lot pageantry.

Both lanes ahead of us rather suddenly came to a halt. Neither lane moved. We waited, but nothing was moving. People began to come out of their cars, looking ahead along the highway to see what might explain this. When I took to the road on foot I could not find an answer either. The snow was coming down, beautifully and dramatically in huge flakes that floated down like large white platters under water. It was piling up rapidly, and we began to wonder if the highway was closed, or at least restricted to vehicles equipped with chains. I took out my cell phone and tapped my yellow pages app for the New Mexico state police. When I called, I heard only a recording that said some areas experienced slowing because of road work. No reports of road closures, nothing.

We saw a lady jump from her car, form a snowball and throw it back into the car to pelt her trapped passengers. An elderly gentleman pulled along side of me, driving along the shoulder of the road, and asked me if I knew what was the matter. After my disclosure of ignorance, he asked if he could pull his car into the space ahead of us. (There was only about half car space which remained after someone else had vacated his place in the pageantry to cross the median strip and head the other direction.) His car only partially left the shoulder of the highway by pulling the nose of his car ahead of us. We were parked there for a full hour, enjoying the show, when there came a horn blast over my left shoulder. It was a huge wrecker (tow truck) which stopped to swear at the guy ahead of us whose car was still partially blocking the shoulder of the road. After humiliating the old gent (look whose calling him "old"!) the tow drove, straddling the shoulder and the median to creep on ahead to tackle the problem. At this time we had confirmed our suspicion that there had been an accident.

It was a good 90 minutes before we began to move--slowly--west along this high speed road. When we got about two miles along the road, there was little evidence of the accident. Disturbed areas of snow in about three or four spots that seemed to indicate it had been a multiple car incident.

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