My husband and I left the blowing snow of Michigan in February and headed south. Our final destination was Ft. Pierce, Florida, where we would stay at his mother’s condo, inconveniently located on the tenth floor of a tall building. I am allergic to heights. Listening to ocean waves crashing the beach and watching sharks migrate northwards from our upper perch is something I love, but that damn black railing, all that stands between me and some grassy knoll below, looks more like dangling strings of black licorice. But before I would have to conquer my fear of heights again, we had to negotiate the turmoil on Interstate 75 on a Monday and Tuesday prior to the Daytona 500. It seemed as if everyone on the road was training to get some speedway action.
We made it as far as Cleveland, Tennessee, before we settled in for the night. Despite the fact that the fire alarms burst into action five minutes after we arrived, and the man across the hallway opened up his door exposing a lot of naked skin and some ugly boxer shorts, we had a good night’s sleep. In the morning, it was my turn to drive. Throughout Michigan and Ohio, we had maintained a fairly steady speed, and state troopers, occasionally sprouted from the medians to remind us to slow down our four-wheel missiles. In Kentucky, speeding seemed to be the norm, so we upped the cruise control to 77 mph.
Around 8:00 in the morning, we left the safety of our not-burned-down motel and the semi-naked man. I drove down the entrance ramp towards I-75, and quickly realized I had to hasten my pace to keep up with this rat-race pack of early-morning drivers. As I stepped on the gas of my bad-ass pickup truck into the southbound lanes of I-75 while doing some Sirius tuning, I heard the distinctive sounds of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” The guitar intro seemed as if it were a menacing riff warning me of potential drama. The drums kicked in, or perhaps it was my heart beating as I made my way into the madness. I turned to my husband and said: “These drivers are insane.” As we began, as Golden Earring would say, “speeding into a new sunrise,” I set the cruise control at 85 mph, and my life flashed before my eyes.
In Michigan, most days I drive between 35 and 40 mph where I live, with the occasional bump up to 55 in permitted areas. I am used to cruising around on local roads where golf carts and Polaris Rangers express the natives or weekenders’ joie de vivre. There is no radar love here, and cops will pull you over, no matter what type of vehicle you are driving, if you dare to buzz past at a mere 5 or 10 over. The cops here are very cool, but they don’t like speeders, meth labs, or dead animals at the side of the road. Neither do we.
One day my husband and I walked past a woman in her SUV as she pled her case to the policeman who had pulled her over. “But I didn’t see the sign,” she said. My husband and I looked at each other and laughed as we went on our way. Since the only obstacles to observing the speed limit signs are mailboxes and critter-proof garbage receptacles, we figured this gal was in for nice little ticket. As runners, walkers, and bicyclists, we don’t want any stinkin’ speeders zipping up and down our roads. “I hate out-of-town morons,” I said to my husband as we continued on our way. Weekenders, trunk-slammers, whatever, they should obey the speed limit. Unless, of course, you live in or are driving through Tennessee or Georgia.
Apparently people in Tennessee and Georgia are in a big hurry to get somewhere. I’d say they are trying to “get the hell outta Dodge,” but as someone who grew up in Dodge City, Kansas, I am really, really tired of that analogy. As I drove like a flying monkey (I know, I know), I thanked God I was in a bad-ass pickup truck where I could cruise next to the massive numbers of semi-truck drivers heading south, and snowbirds trying to escape the reality of Michigan in winter. I learned that size really does matter. I felt as if I had my cowgirl boots on and could kick anyone’s ass, except for a semi-truck driver’s ass, as I ducked and dived my way through traffic, seated on my throne where I could look down upon smaller cars passing me, most likely driving 90-95 mph. Quite a few of these drivers were either texting, eating, or smoking. My husband got tired of my swearing, so he pretended to memorize the map. This is when I learned a new game: Avoid the Cube.
For those of you who don’t know, a Cube is a car, a very teeny car that reminds me of an old phone booth tipped sideways, jammed pack with people, and gliding down the road on top of a skateboard. Cube drivers have apparently invented a game where they dare to dart in-between semis and bad-ass pickups as a way of showing their disdain for anyone in a larger vehicle. Would these be eco-terrorists, or are these people just plain nuts? After using multiple swear words in rapid succession (drumbeats—“Radar Love”),” my husband asked if I wanted him to drive. Hell no! Memories of my Audi TT convertible played out in my head. I was a fox! A speeding vixen! I was Danica Patrick!
Eventually, we had to stop for food and gas, no pit crew to save us the trouble. I relinquished the driving duties to my husband. As we neared the Florida state line, we noted the presence of state troopers waiting in the medians like suicidal raccoons, just waiting to pop out into traffic and cause major mayhem. Jim slowed down to 75 mph as we kept up with traffic and out of the radar-lovers’ view.
As we breezed along A1A, the sky melted into darkness filled with thousands of stars. We pulled into the parking lot at my mother-in-law’s condo, commenting on the various license plates from Ontario, Quebec, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and one lone car from Texas. We climbed out of our bad-ass pickup truck and grabbed our suitcases. We rode in the elevator up to the 10th floor, and walked to the end of the hall. Jim’s mother hugged us and asked about our trip. Jim and I looked at each other, and smiled. “Long,” he said. I walked out onto the balcony and listened as waves crashed into the shore, morphing into the sound of soft brushes sliding over the surface of some faraway drum. I slid my body forward and traced the inner rim of the balcony railing. The noises of the road became a distant memory as I settled into a new kind of joie de vivre.