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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Driving Home- The Sunday Collage

It started out harmlessly enough. A wedding in Silverthorne, Colorado and the trip home on Monday.

My brother's wedding over the weekend was a great success. The family brought out their best behavior and nobody was maimed or killed. I was so proud of my brother and his new wife- there is something about all that beaming back and forth that lets you know they are genuinely in love. The wedding and all the associated haps exceeded my best expectations. Then- there was the drive home.

Predicting is hard especially about the future. Just as I could not accurately predict how well everyone would behave at the wedding- I could not predict the bizarre events that would happen on the 800 mile drive home. Yesterday, the idiots were out in full force and on the highway.

My gal and I experienced four events, two of which I am still pondering, and one which might include my filing a complaint on a trooper in the Utah Highway Patrol (just as soon as I am done writing this) for a fine piece of ridiculous driving. The problem for most cops is that calls like this (a non injury "crash") are always rushed to dispatch via a cellphone with an excited witness and important details get left out. Often it is difficult to determine what type of response is actually needed based mostly on (and nearly always) incomplete information.

The first event happened on the interstate about 30 miles west of Silverthorne, Colorado. There was an overturned pick up truck and trailer on the eastbound half  (towards Denver) of the interstate. I noted as we passed this crash that there was no ambulance, fire, or tow trucks in attendance. The interstate has a median that is blocked with guardrails- making it very difficult to turn around and switch directions if you must. The road is undulating and filled with somewhat blind curves. A few miles past the wreck, I rounded one of those mountainous curves just in time to witness a flat bedded tow truck- parked on the right shoulder- turn left in front of me. He had evidently passed the crash going the wrong way and began looking for an emergency vehicle access road between both halves of the interstate to turn and go back. Having found one, he turned left from the right shoulder, across both lanes of traffic and for a moment- his vehicle provided a perfect metal barricade from right shoulder to left shoulder across the westbound interstate. I didn't have to smoke my brakes but I most certainly used them hard- in conjunction with downshifting my manual transmission- a slowing trick I have used to reduce speed on my motorcycles rather than simply relying on brakes.

The next incident happened about 60 miles later between Rifle and Parachute, Colorado. I was still westbound when a white SUV with an older gal driving entered the westbound lane from a ramp at Rifle. She was on her cellphone. She was one of those inconsistent drivers- speeding up and slowing down- you know the type. Those people you pass and then they pass you back because they cannot do two things at once. So at one point she sped up, then slowed down. As I began to pass her, she prevented the pass by speeding up. This would have been all well and good but we were about to enter a construction zone and my lane was completely coned off (actually barrels) and traffic was reduced to one lane. Just inside the barrels was a Colorado State Trooper parked and pointed our way with his lights on. I tried to get back into the remaining lane- ahead of the cellphone yakking older lady. She apparently decided this was the time and place to make her stand. She did not slow down one bit. In fact she sped up and absolutely refused to yield an inch of ground because the voices in her head told her that she simply could not tolerate my car ahead of hers. It was an interesting game of chicken but I never stood a chance. I had to hit the brakes to let her pass before striking the barrels. She did not seem even remotely concerned about the trooper sitting in the construction zone. In fact, the patrol car did not budge. Apparently, reckless driving is of little concern to state troopers but in all fairness- he might have been doing something else- like not watching anything. That was a very close call. We pulled alongside of this gal and her breast cancer survivor plates on the exit ramp. I looked over at her but she pretended to be invisible. I've found that this is how people who do shitty things always behave when they find themselves vulnerable and stopped next to someone who they have done something shitty to. She was lucky that it was me.

By the time we arrived in Salt Lake City, my girlfriend Kathleen was at the controls. It was super heavy rush hour traffic and we were south of SLC driving in the carpool lane. We were a few miles south of the 215 and traveling north on I-15 when we watched as an ambulance running with his lights on- entered the interstate from a ramp. He crossed four lanes of heavy traffic to get into the carpool lane ahead of us. I was in awe of this because running with lights on in that kind of congestion was sort of an interesting thing to watch. After a short distance- he decided to cross all four lanes again to take the 215 ramp. Nobody on the interstate can yield to emergency vehicles here because there is simply no place to yield to. In fact, the shoulder to our left just beside the car pool lane is only 4 or 5 feet wide. The width of that shoulder varies greatly, something I noted as we traveled along. Just before the junction with 215- a Utah Highway Trooper engaged his overhead lights and launched his patrol car down the left side of the carpool lane. There was no room for him to get by. It was super narrow. My girlfriend had to move right and straddle the fast lane next to us and the car pool lane (down a solid line) just to let the trooper pass. The lane to our right was just as congested as every other lane. A few miles north on I-15- we saw a three or four car non injury fender bender which apparently was the cause of this trooper's reckless response. Kathleen was less than impressed by all of this.

I will tell you this. As a retired police car pusher who sometimes worked in very heavy traffic, running code three (lights/siren) in very heavy traffic is always dangerous and just not worth the second or two you might save. The vast majority of time, virtually all of the time, you will never arrive at an accident scene in time to prevent anything else from happening. When seconds count we are always minutes away. The happening is over. A code three response is predicated upon the principle that speeding to any scene will stop something else from happening. The intervention theory. That almost never happens. I saved my very best reckless driving for those few calls when people or cops were screaming for help. By limiting those high speed responses, I was able to reduce my exposure to bad things. In that way young cops can become old cops, retiring without killing anybody or themselves in the process. We call that "experience" or "seasoning."

Having escaped those three incidents, we left the Utah state line and entered into the boondocks of Idaho about 20 miles west of Snowville, Utah.

On the horizon, I watched as a giant plume of black smoke shot up a few miles ahead of us. Having seen these types of things a time or two, I could tell a vehicle was on fire. As we neared the area, we saw a semi-truck trailer completely engulfed in flames on the shoulder. There were a couple of tractor trailer rigs blocking the fast lane and some guy was standing in the middle of the slow lane. We were about 200 yards from the burning hulk and I get a little nervous because you don't know what kind of cargo might be on the trailer. Passing right next to this thing might not be the smartest move- so we just watched it burn for a bit until we were satisfied that nothing was going to explode and shred our car. The blocking the road guy walked up to us at one point and told us to be careful. I was thinking at least I have some protection in this car, but I suppose he was just trying to be helpful. The wind was blowing fairly hard from SW to NE and the adjacent wheat field soon caught on fire. There was a farmhouse about 1/2 mile away but we didn't stick around long enough to watch the whole countryside go up or to see whether the fire made it to the house. About 20 minutes later we laughed as we saw some dilapidated 1980's volunteer fire truck with some fire hose on it heading for the scene. By the time it got there- there would be a 25 acre range fire and we thought about just stopping the truck and telling it to go home.

Blocking road guy running around

Like a blast furnace

Getting home in one piece is never a forgone conclusion. I can tell you this much. If anyone asks me how the drive home was yesterday, I just might say "ok" or "uneventful" just to save us all a lot of time. It's good to be home.