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Right Place, Right Time

March 31, 2010 2 comments

Sometimes I think deciding whether or not a decision I make is the right one is just a matter of how I decide to look at things.

For instance, take last weekend’s drive back from Vermont to Syracuse. I’ve narrowed the trip down to a choice between two routes: the easy one and the fast one. The easy one, via the Northway (I-87) and Thruway (I-90), is about 50 miles longer but has plenty of services and rest stops and lanes and radio/cellphone reception. The fast one winds through the Adirondacks and has lots of steep hills but not much congestion (as long as I’m feeling nervy enough to pass on mountain roads) and generally takes about a half hour to an hour less time if the weather cooperates.

That’s a very big “if.” A steady March rain in most of the state can translate into a flash snowstorm at the high elevation of places like Speculator, NY (1,739 feet) and in fact did so on Sunday night. I hadn’t checked the weather report, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I did, because the forecast — rain — didn’t mention icy roads and several inches of fresh powder on the Routes 8 and 30 slalom.

The trip started OK — just a little drizzle — but as I got further into the mountains, I started to encounter more dense fog, more places where the wet turned slippery and more of the “jump to hyperspace” effect every time I tried to use my high beams in a vain attempt to figure out the orientation of the next bend in the road before I actually reached it.

On the climb into Speculator I found a particularly heavy patch of fresh snow so I downshifted until I was doing about 40 mph. Halfway up the hill, I came upon a car against the guard rail. Slowing further, I saw one person there so I stopped to see if I could offer any assistance. I also noticed another car off the other side of the road about an eighth of a mile uphill.

The teenager who was driving the car that had crashed was all right, and I gradually figured out that her father had gone on ahead — I’m still not quite sure where — and that the other car off the road wasn’t in any way associated with this one.

I offered to call for help, but then noticed my cell phone had no signal. So I headed up the hill with — I never did learn the names of any of the people I encountered, so let’s call her April — to take a look at what was going on with the other car, which turned out to be fine though ditched. Its driver — she’ll be Meghan — had recently moved here from Austin, Texas to work at the religious camp that is apparently the largest employer in greater Speculator. She’d had even less experience than April with snowy mountain roads.

Also present was Chip, a 20ish brawny, cropped-haired local who didn’t seem fazed by the cold even though he was only wearing a t-shirt. I guess Chip had also stopped to help. Shortly after reaching them, April’s dad Steve returned, and I noticed that my phone had signal so I made the call to 911. Chip informed me that we were halfway between Greene and Speculator at “Million Dollar Bend,” so-called because of the expense involved in the car repairs and tow fees caused by the sharp curve in the steep road. Steve and April were locals as well, as I learned when Steve used my phone to reach someone he knew nearby and asked them to contact AAA and come out to get them.

The four of us tried pushing Meghan’s car out of the ditch, Steve calling out directions in a very capable and dadlike manner, Meghan learning how to rock her car back and forth. We might have even managed it, if only April hadn’t chosen to wear high heels for the trip, a fact she lamented several times (her dad pointed out that at least he’d talked her out of wearing flip-flops). Without some extra traction though, we didn’t have quite enough oomph to get Meghan’s Versa back onto the road.

Though there was little else I could do, I stuck around until a state trooper arrived — it didn’t feel right to leave. I learned a bit more about where and who we were via that awkward small talk that comes from five people with little in common besides cars and snow and not being where they intended to at that moment.

After Officer Friendly got a handle on the situation, he suggested everyone who wasn’t in need of assistance should leave. It was late, I was only halfway to my destination and, most importantly, I really needed to pee, so I headed back down the hill. Checking to make sure nobody else was following, I yellowed the snow by hazard light and was soon on my way.

I didn’t feel quite like a hero — I’m sure someone else would have stopped if I hadn’t. And the nagging sense remained that I’d been stupid to take the road less traveled — especially when I had to creep up some of the remaining hills in second gear. But I got to feel useful, got thanked, and got enough of an adrenaline rush to keep me going until I made it back to firmer and flatter ground.

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Categories: Essays Tags: ,