Code of the Road

When we drove to Leesburg for Thanksgiving with daughter Jean and her family, the weather was nice and the roads mostly dry. In these latitudes daylight is brief. It behooves the traveler to pick his weather and his day.

Going home is so much easier than departing. Throw the things you brought back into the camper – no decisions must be made – and you’re leaving a house with people in it.

In summer, when you leave an empty house you need a friend to come in, water the potted plants, check for leaks, and evict the critters in the attic. In winter only the plumbing needs monitoring.

Leaving your daughter’s house does not require the careful selection of clothing for every contingency, making arrangements for newspapers and mail. Just gather up what belongs to you.

In no time at all, you’re on your way.

We had a gamut of weather this time. Dry and sunny, threatening skies, fog and pelting rain – it would be easier to say we had everything except balmy days and snow.

For the trip home one of us wanted to leave on Tuesday, the other wanted to leave on Wednesday for just one more day with her grandboys. Despite weather-persons’ prediction that the possibility of rain was 100 percent, she won the toss and set Wednesday as the day of departure.

And of course, it was gorgeous Tuesday, but rained and rained steadily on Wednesday. So far, Thursday has been clear and bright as a fine-polished jewel.

We were in the mountains late in the afternoon, having driven through a steady downpour. I understood the inherent dangers, but I loved it. The broad Shenandoah Valley spreads widely to parallel I-77 and I-81. There was just enough breeze to tickle the low clouds and send them up between mountains. Little peaks sometimes pierced the low clouds and looked like mounds of whipped cream gliding serenely on hot chocolate.

Truck traffic was heavy. Truck drivers get a bum rap. We appreciate these Interstate warriors for their good humor and professionalism. We do the little light flash when a trucker is looking to get into our lane, and almost invariably they blink back as they slide into the gap between us.

They come in every finish and color – truckers, I mean. On a socked-in day like this, they want to get home to a warm house and family just as much as we do. In all the years we’ve used the Interstates, we’re never seen a really bad wreck involving professional drivers.

And on a night as foul as last night’s, we remark to each other that we’ve also never seen a truck in a runaway lane. Wonder what would happen if two trucks desperately needed to slow their rigs. If the first could roll up the full length of the ramp, the second might get in behind him. I don’t know. I’m sure they’re in communication with each other. It’s we amateurs who can only guess what the end game is.

In any case, weather aside, we had an uneventful road trip for Thanksgiving with Jean’s crowd. Nevertheless, it was so stressful that I’ll think we’ll pony up the airfare next time.

As if flying doesn’t have its own stresses.

I’ve been looking for a story I wrote long ago to round this out. Two columns, actually. I can’t even find the column.

The scenario? The tread separated from a tire on the motor home on the Interstate. Dave was driving at about the speed limit, and immediately eased over to the shoulder of I-85 somewhere near the North Carolina and South Carolina state line.

This time we were en route home, leaving behind grandkids and early Christmas celebrations. It was cloudy and cold, but not unbearable. We were just plain tired, the highway was straight there, so Dave decided to change the tire himself. The damaged floor could be repaired once we were home.

We’ve read so many scary stories and heard how long it takes to get help that Dave was ready to tackle the job. Our motor home (we call it a camper) is small, but heavy. Any major task like this should be done at a safe distance from the roadway.

The farthest we could get from the pavement appeared to be about six feet. If we tried to get farther off, we risked a precipitous roll down the embankment.

I started wringing my hands when it suddenly dawned on me. This is exactly the situation that we bought road service for. One call and in less than a half hour a truck pulled up and a gruff sort of fellow got out, took a look at our former tire, and said something like, “Yup, you had a blowout all right.”

We lost less than an hour. Our bill was $0.

No such event in Thanksgiving 2009. Just the rain and thousands of cars and trucks and a certain courtesy flowing up and down the roadway.

Life is good.