As I headed back from the warm, welcoming sun that greeted me to Rochester the day prior, I grimaced when fog fell thick on the Thruway just as I approached Albany. It was that kind of shroud where you can’t tell if it’s dawn, dusk or midday.
The playful drizzle that had accompanied me for much of the return trip gave way to a pelting rain and dreary drive.
By the time I exited onto the very long ramp that dumps you into New England by way of the Mass Pike, it was black. Not just from nightfall, but that low-lying cloud haze continued to envelop everything it touched. You can’t get your bearings even on the most familiar paths.
Since a confident lead was forging forward, navigation by tail lights seemed wise. Just because people seem to know the right approach – and the hazards – doesn’t always mean it’s so. Of course, the temptation in such circumstances is to speed through the unpleasantness in hopes of ending the suffering sooner.
He was a bit reckless in his confidence, but he was in front of me and the only other soul visible on this particular route. Suddenly, he slammed on the breaks and almost slid off the road (don’t do that in New England, in March, when temperatures are in the low 30s). After a few more foot punches, he sped off to somewhere I wasn’t willing to follow.
I was alone.
The only thing that broke the dark veil was oncoming headlights that provided a blinding glare against the wet roads and my travel-weary windshield. Sometimes the illumination provided to benefit others’ desires doesn’t make for a useful aid if that’s not where you want to be going (in this case, that would have been a ditch).
As traffic later increased, I passed the driver who left me behind. He was now an obstacle, creating a hazard for those trying to hold the course, having slowed to a speed likely to result in a wreck. Anyone who has traveled the Mass Pike when visibility is next to nil (or the Thruway for that matter – can you say Syracuse white outs?) knows it’s more dangerous to choose a unique speed or path when others are better suited as guides because they have a clearer perspective and vantage point (those truck drivers sitting on high kept me on the road more times than I care to count during Syracuse winters in years’ past – too bad they’ve morphed from a considerate and careful species to a self-centered, dangerous lot).
You might think stopping is the wisest solution. It’s not. You can’t see where the shoulders are in this stuff so your chances of having someone reach into your backseat with their front bumper gets more probable as conditions worsen. Sure you can transfer to a less traveled route, but that’s not always an option. This exit is about 23 miles long with no service stations or civilization for the stretch.
As I continued East, I decided to end what had been mostly a silent, meditative trip with some music. I chuckled as I found the same station (WDRC) that I had listened to in my youth. They were pretty much contemporary then. Now, they’re playing the exact same music and are apparently seen as timeless (or in a time warp, like much else in the area).
I decided I had enough of childhood experiences and opted instead to retreat to westerly and watery locals, popping a John Denver CD into my car console.
As I crossed into Connecticut, my windshield washers had an end of life experience (dang, I knew there was something I forgot to do before I left). I decided to finish my trek without. It was, after all, past nine o’clock on a Saturday night. I didn’t think that Stateline bar that was still open would have what I was looking for. Fortunately, I still had my headlights to see through the dark and empty streets that comprised the remainder of the challenge.