Lifesaving chatter

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 8/11/21

Thank God for chatter. I'm not referring to the faulty brakes of a car or the mother-in-law who won't get off the phone. This chatter, as I can attest, is a lifesaver. It's the grooved strips that are now common on the sides of interstate highway lanes.

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Lifesaving chatter

Posted

Thank God for chatter.

I’m not referring to the faulty brakes of a car or the mother-in-law who won’t get off the phone. This chatter, as I can attest, is a lifesaver. It’s the grooved strips that are now common on the sides of interstate highway lanes. No matter if you weaved off the passing lane and are heading for a Jersey barrier, a grassy slope with dandelions or a big old oak, you’re going to hit the chatter first. There’s the same introduction to the break down lane.

I’ve had a couple of chats with the chatter lane, so I know one when I feel one. The rickety jostling is enough to jolt you out of a daydream on a long drive and instill the fear of running off the road. Of course, that’s what they’re supposed to do. And if you are deliberately headed off the travel lane, the chatter strip can be a good friend. There’s a measure, albeit it won’t stop a vehicle between you and those with the cruise control set at 75 and glancing at that text causing their phone to vibrate. There’s good reason to be separated from one’s fellow motorists.

But then there’s also good reason to travel in packs.

I learned that Thursday night while driving west on the Mass Pike as it joins the New York Thruway. There’s not much on this stretch of highway – a few bridges, some farms tucked in the adjoining hills, and no streetlights.

That didn’t matter. Mother nature had a light show. I could see it from 10 miles away and knew we were on a collision course.

The hum of the engine and the audio book “The First Conspiracy” by Brad Meltzer drowned out the distant thunder. It seemed the perfect backdrop for the tale of spies and plots against George Washington. An ominous feeling filled the car. I lowered my window for a gulp of fresh air and reached over for another corn chip from the open bag on the passenger seat. Lightening danced in the clouds. I had the feeling at any moment a searing bolt would be hurled from the heavens splintering pavement and vehicles. That didn’t happen.

It started with a few heavy drops ricocheting off the windshield. I flicked on my wipers and turned off cruise control. The rain got heavier. I reduced speed and sped up the wipers. Ahead were the taillights of another car. The headlights of the car behind shown in the rear view mirror. I found comfort in our little traveling pod. I watched for the dashing white line to my left and the yellow stripe to my right. This was my track and I felt as long as I stayed in it, I would be safe.

Then the fury of the storm hit. It was a wind-driven curtain of water. I lost sight of the lines. The red lights in front were obliterated – just gone, disappeared. The lights behind faded. There was a glow, but that was growing fainter.

Suddenly I saw the giant wheels of a tractor-trailer beside me, nothing more than the wheels spitting water. The driver leaned on the horn. It sent shivers through the car. Company would have been nice, but I was driving to join Carol and Ollie. As quickly as the trailer truck passed, I was blinded by the truck’s wash and driving rain. Do I stop, put on the flashers and pray that another trucker hell bent on where ever they are going doesn’t hit me?

Then there was a row of flashing red lights as wide as the traffic lane. It had to be a truck cautiously navigating this river of rain. Might that be my guide? I turned to follow the lights when the rumble of the chatter strip shook the car. Instantly, I knew I had left the road. I slammed on the brakes. Fortunately, they did their job. I came to a stop barely three feet from a car carrier. The driver must have seen me coming. He pulled ahead another 10 feet.

I thanked my maker and whoever thought of the chatter strip. Then I turned off the book, listened to the storm’s rage and waited 20 minutes before the car carrier decided it was safe to return to the highway.

He was my beacon to Albany.

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