After being on the road most of the week, yesterday I was traveling home. Those are always a good days for me. There’s this kind of familiarity, a sort of rhythm that I am stepping back into. I look forward to walking through the front door and into what’s comfortable; when the aroma from the kitchen, the touch of the sofa, the sounds of conversation and laughter – confirm with all of my senses that “Here is where family happens”. The edge from a long day of driving 7 or 8 hours is always replaced with the anticipation of the moment when those I love give me that welcome home hug. The kind of hug you know is genuine, that says “I really did miss you”.
So yesterday was supposed to be that kind of a day. I was nearing the halfway point in my nine hour trip. An hour earlier I had stopped to fill up with fuel and grab a drink. I’m thinking of going just a little further before I stop, stretch my legs, get rid of that drink, and grab some lunch. It’s always better for me to break the trip up a little bit. That’s when it happened. I was going about 75 mph when the car in front of me struck something and caused it to start tumbling down the road between us. Time really did seem to slow down, as hyper-focus on the object took over. I couldn’t make out what it was but knew it wasn’t bringing anything good in my direction. I was in the left lane and cars were on my right so there was nowhere for me to go. Taking the grass median at 75 would have only spun me out of control.
As the object neared I thought it would bounce up, possibly crashing into my windshield. Fortunately, this didn’t happen as it flipped end for end under my car. The initial bang was followed by a subsequent thud and then the sound of metal scrapping along the road.
I slowed and pulled over to the median as the car behind me did as well. I was calm and almost methodical as I shut off the radio and then the car to begin my inspection of what I knew would be certain damage. This is when I heard the driver who was behind me yelling. My thoughts went to having to deal with some enraged driver, when I started understanding what he was yelling. “Get out of the car! There’s gas! Get out of the car!”, he yelled. At that very moment, my nostrils were filled with the unmistakable smell of gasoline. For some reason that I will have to analyze later, I grabbed my briefcase and literally leapt from the car. As I ran to separate myself from the car and what might be about to happen, I looked back to see all of the gas I had just put in the tank flowing out over what appeared to be a hot exhaust pipe.
As I’m waiting for the movie theatrics, the guy that had been yelling for me to get out of the car was already talking to 911. We both just stood there watching the gas flow -waiting. Something about the presence of adrenaline brings every little detail into focus. I tell the guy, whose from New York, to back his car up as the gas is now making its way toward where he had parked. For some reason, I notice fire ant mounds everywhere in the grass, and see that he is standing near one and the ants were beginning to blanket his foot. So there I stand, traffic speeding by, expectation of my car about to explode, and my new friend doing this sort of dance to rid himself of the ensuing ant attack.
Fortunately, my car wasn’t enveloped in some movie-trailer like fireball. When the car finally made its way to the dealer for repair I could see the wreckage that had been done. The object had struck with enough force to leave a 1″ dent in the steel frame at the front of the car. This is when the surreal moment of just how differently this could have turned out. Where the alternate scene of this piece of metal, which had also left a gash down the front fender of the New Yorker’s Lexus SUV before tearing off its passenger side mirror, could have looked much differently. As I surveyed the metal heat shield that was ripped from under my car I could envision it dragging the asphalt and kicking up sparks. The flowing gasoline dancing around the sparks, looking to unleash its potential.
For sure, yesterday’s trouble along I-95 could have had a much different ending. God’s hand of protection was surely upon me. His hand is alway there, and I wish it didn’t take a dose of adrenaline for me to hyper-focus on HIM.