Ah, is there anything as exhilarating as the Atlanta bound traffic at 7:30 on a weekday morning on I-20 or 285 bypass? I used to ride a motorcycle in the carpool lane years ago but those days went away with cellphones and texting.
I was reminded as to why I stopped riding the bike on a recent trip to our lovely capitol city a few days ago. Right about “spaghetti junction” or “hangman’s knot,” as I call it, I noticed my knuckles had turned white from gripping the steering wheel. They had remained in a 10 and two death grip since I’d hit I-20 West, 30 minutes before, turning off of a beautiful, tree-lined two lane and entering the “Atlanta Free For All Raceway,” the most exciting ride east of Atlanta, more so than the carnival even because you have an idea as to when those rides will stop.
Exciting because of the sheer unpredictability of what lies ahead. Could be a deer, possum, dog or one of the rats in the “rat race,” running for their jobs in the city? You’ve never seen so many people so excited to get to work. It was like a frenzy of some sort as though they were thinking if I’m not there by 8 someone will take my place in line, the coffee will turn to syrup and the glazed donuts to sugar.
My jaw ached from gritting my teeth as I had been watching the “rats” change lanes. It seemed as though they were never satisfied with whatever lane they found themselves in and always wanted mine. The tension crick in the neck must have been from swiveling the head trying to watch three mirrors and the tail lights blinking directly in front of me. My sciatica had moved from the knee back up to the back and the seat belt was digging into my good side because I hadn’t changed position in about an hour, as I was determined not to become a traffic fatality or the defendant in a lawsuit created by rear ending the road race “rat” in front of me.
Plus, my cheap boxers were so far up my rear end from breaking, I was short of breath. Not good when you’re claustrophobic and wearing a seat belt.
I’ll admit I’m not good driving in a race and therefore can’t compare with the freeway multitaskers who can, drink, text, dial, read, mine the nose, steer a car at 80 miles an hour and pass gas, the latter requiring minimum concentration but well worth the effort, unless it’s a carpool situation.
I generally stay behind the 18 wheelers, which means I never know where I am, until I get there. It was 50 years ago when they tried to teach me what was then referred to as “the art of safely driving a car,” as Coach Cook used to say. Before the juiced up cars and cellphones, when the only “distraction” might have been a good looking woman in the next car over. He would show us films of Third World countries, cars beat all to hell, no lanes to separate drivers, horns blaring, intersections being crossed at one’s own risk, etc. Today, the course would probably include footage from, “The Rat Road Race Show, live from Atlanta!”
No one in that day could have envisioned the potential carnage I witnessed on the 285 bypass. The history of each car can be seen in its damaged body as they pass by. Side “swipers,” rear-enders, fender benders, one lamp “louis’s,” and my favorites — the one’s whose owner had just enough money to have part of the car painted after a body job. Probably just a hair’s breadth from being totaled but not quite there. A door, a hood, whatever was replaced has a new look to go along with the battle scared remainder of the car. A telltale sign that someone was perhaps a survivor in the race for fresh donuts and coffee. There’s one good thing about the “road race.” The feeling you get when it’s over and you’re still alive — the blood returning to your hands and you saying to yourself, I did it, I survived and so did my car and now I can adjust my boxers! You might wonder where I was headed that day. Why, to the hospital, of course.
Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.