Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Road Hazards!

It had been a while since I had gone on a road trip by myself, but yesterday I drove to Richmond, Virginia, grateful for the freedom to listen to my music and have my bladder be the only one of concern. And on my way there yesterday, I saw a familiar sign as I crossed into Virginia. One that always makes me smile. The big welcoming one that says, "Speed Limit Enforced By Aircraft". You'll encounter these signs when you cross into Virginia from any of its neighboring states. And I'm not sure how anyone could read that without it giving them pause. Because it doesn't say, "Speed Limit Monitored By Aircraft", which would lead you to believe someone in a crop duster is radioing the make and model of your speeding automobile to a police cruiser on the ground who will lie in wait for you. No, it says, "Speed Limit ENFORCED By Aircraft", which I can only take to mean F-16s will fire missiles at you from overhead if you dare to break the limit, thereby enforcing you not to speed. Or draw another breath. Something they left off the sign because it's implicit.

Laughing at that sign made me remember laughing at it with some friends of mine when we drove back from college. The prologue here is that I attended college in Longview, Texas, which is quite a long drive from Floyd County, Virginia, the land of the perpetual 1930s and banjos where I grew up. When I left for school my freshman year, I went by plane, but did not enjoy life without a car. So, when I came home for Christmas break, the plan was to drive back to Texas. I had driven all of one hour from home before, so what was sixteen? And I wasn't going to be doing it alone because my freshman roommate was from New Delhi, India, and she came home with me for Christmas break. The one hiccup in the original plan, which is different than the many hiccups in the secondary plan, was that my roommate couldn't drive. Not only was she licenseless, but she had never driven at all. She did have other skills to contribute, though. She would be able to help me stay awake and entertained, and, more importantly, she would also be able to use her high IQ (probably triple my own) to navigate. These were the days before GPS, so it was common practice to use a genius-level Indian girl to guide you on long journeys.

The second hiccup, which was more akin to an epileptic seizure, was the snowstorm that arrived just prior to our departure. And it wasn't just any snowstorm, it was the North American Blizzard of 1996. (Actual name, look it up.) As it was too early to predict that classes wouldn't resume as previously scheduled due to this weather catastrophe, and there was no way I was forfeiting my chance at having readily available transport at college, my roommate and I took off in the pre-dawn hours to "beat the storm". Because obviously, storms travel by interstate. I should also add that my own driving skills were in question, since I was eighteen and had barely passed driver's ed. I'm actually quite certain the instructor only passed me out of the fear he would be stuck riding with me again after my failure. But, even though the odds were not in our favor, we made it. Thanks almost entirely to my father's good advice about driving in the tracks of an eighteen wheeler. And, in a stroke of luck, there was exactly one on the interstate that day. After an unscheduled detour and layover, we eventually made it Texas, physically unscathed, if not emotionally. And that was my first road trip, making all others easy by comparison. I've seriously digressed, though, because she wasn't the friend I was laughing at the sign with.

By the end of my freshman year, I had become close friends with two guys who lived in the Eastern Corridor with me. One was from Pennsylvania and one was from Delaware. In case you don't know your geography, Virginia is on the way to Pennsylvania from Texas. And on a separate geographical side note, Delaware is also a state in America. Thanks to this relative proximity, I had a much easier system of getting my car back to Virginia. The system was letting my friend's cousin drive my car back home as part of our three car caravan. His cousin was also from Delaware, and I hope that you are impressed that I knew not one, BUT TWO people from Delaware. I would wager many of you know none of its 25 citizens.

Even though I didn't have to drive, I did have many important tasks on our journey. I was responsible for entertainment (alternating which friend I rode with by switching at each stop), and stereo control, and some minor navigation. I was pretty good at two of those jobs and not so much the other, and if you know me, or know someone who knows me, you know which one gave me trouble. I think the highlight of my navigational career was when my friend "Dover" (a geographical nickname) asked me to look something up on his Road Atlas. Thankfully, he had one of those fancy high-dollar desk reference type atlases that even a novice like myself could read. Unfortunately, there were other unpredictable obstacles to my helpfulness. One was we were driving with the windows down. Being unfamiliar with all the laws of physics, I held the atlas a little too close to the window as I scoured it for our next exit. Apparently, at speeds of 90ish miles per hour, a vacuum is created by an open window and it was "So long, Directions". Honestly, after I experienced the force of that thing flying from my hand, I was thankful just to have my arm.

Since we were the lead car, Dover signaled and got off at the next exit, so we could all "regroup". My other good friend, the driver of car two in our line, jumped out of his car and said, "Man, something just hit my windshield!" He inspected it, and his hood, for damage. To my surprise, he found none. But he didn't know what had hit him, and Dover and I were laughing so hard, we couldn't tell him right then. Cousin Delaware got out of my car and mentioned how he had narrowly avoided hitting something himself. He had seen the UFO bounce off of the middle car and been forced to utilize his defensive driving techniques. When we could finally speak again, we told them what had happened and then thought to ask if either of them got a look at what exit we were supposed to take next. (I did have it open to the right page at its time of departure.) They hadn't caught it, but luckily these guys had an innate sense of direction and we were very shortly crossing into Virginia, where we were warned that if we broke the speed limit, we'd have a lot more than flying atlases to worry about!

In loving memory of Rick Seachrist.


  1. Love this story!! I made that road trip with those same guys, cousin and all! I wish you had been on it too! I ended up in NY, since that is on the way:):)

  2. :) Heather this is Stacy Dingfield. I haven't read anything that funny in a long time!!!

  3. Okay, so I just drove up to Connecticut and had a good chuckle as I entered Virginia with those road signs. I told my mom about this blog post, and she thought it was pretty funny too.