I had the pleasure today of meeting a most wonderful, serene, friendly young
woman. This fine lady was not only quite attractive, but the embodiment of graciousness
and patience. She was also a model to me of how one remains calm under significantly stressful situations. And we met by accident.
Let me start by describing where.
Connecticut's "Gold Coast" is not only one of the top-ranking,
if not the top-ranking location to find the folks with the highest
per-capita income in the nation. George W. Bush spent some of his formative years in Greenwich,
Connecticut. Ivana Trump and Leona Helmsley live there. Nearby are the lovely bedroom communities of Darien, New Canaan,
and the oh-so-chic town of Westport. Now, stay with me
whilst I describe how the denizens of this hotbed of wealth and privilege get
from point A to point B.
Now, during the 1920s, the only way to get from Boston
to New York City was via The Boston Post Road (Interstate Route 1). The
proliferation of automobiles and trucks and resultant increase in serious
traffic accidents alarmed the people, the Governor and other political big-wigs.
When the New Deal brought about the WPA, the
fair State of Connecticut was at the ready to capture their slice of the
financial "pie," as it were, with a novel proposal for a "superhighway" which
would connect the major arteries leading out of New York City and Hartford,
Connecticut. Such a project was just what the WPA was best at building.
The roadway that became The Merritt Parkway (Connecticut
Route 15) is truly a remarkable thoroughfare; it is north enough of the
congested business districts along Route 1 to cut a wide swath through the
country. Along its sides and down its median are planted all types of trees; the
road is a veritable drive-through arboretum. The bridges which convey local
traffic over the Parkway were delightfully designed in the Art Deco style, no
one bearing a significant resemblance to another (no small feat of design; to think of the
myriad engineering drawings alone gives me a headache). And the road has lovely
curves which open out onto meadows and surprise vistas, all the better for
sight-seeing at a leisurely pace, yet without the frequent traffic signals on
Route 1 which caused much consternation for pre-Merritt motorists.
Long after the completion of the Merritt Parkway, Interstate 95 was built,
and then the lines were drawn. There was to be no more truck traffic on the
Merritt. Indeed, the Merritt Parkway was to be for passenger cars only. The huge,
growling machines which propel the cogs of commerce would have to be satisfied
with the far less picturesque Interstate upon which to travel. Now, one thing to
remember is that the Merritt was designed and built in the 1930s. Cars were not
as wide, and not nearly as fast, as they are today.
A Recipe for Trouble
Now, referencing the second paragraph hereinabove, I beg the gentle reader to
inspect the following recipe:
Take a lot of Volvos, Turbo-Charged Saab Convertibles,
Jaguars, Mercedes S-Class sedans and coupes, Beemers
and even the occasional Maserati whizzing along a perilously narrow,
curving road at upwards of 80 miles per hour. Yes, I said 80 miles per
Add a generous dollop of Land Rovers, Ford Explorers, a Chevrolet Suburban or two, and a lot of
Cadillac Escalades. Traveling at 80 miles per
Sprinkle with wonderful old ladies driving their Buicks
about ten miles per hour below the posted speed limit (55 miles
Garnish with cigarettes being fumbled with, Dunkin' Donuts coffee, phones being held in the hand, (against current State law while
driving), tranquilizers, Prozac, Xanax, and anti-psychotics.
I take it you get my drift by now.
At about 9:30 yesterday morning I was driving the lovely and curvaceous
Merritt Parkway. In the Toyota Sienna. We go to New York City every Monday to
buy provisions for the restaurant, take a nice lunch, and generally get away
from the business. Our route of choice is the Merritt, because for us it's more
direct than other routes, and has been recently repaved, unlike the disastrous,
perilous shame that I-95 has become. A chef and a waitress, both on a day off,
had chosen to join my wife and I on the ride to and from New York's Chinatown.
It Began Innocently Enough
Speaking of I-95, better known around these parts as the Connecticut
Turnpike, Connecticut's infrastructure in general has earned it the dubious
distinction of "worst" or "near worst" from a number of critics. This is due in
part to a State Department of Transportation riddled with inefficiency, crooks,
and no-show jobs. Thankfully, the mafia (and crooked Waterbury Republican) strongholds have let go, suddenly changing
project completion times from years to months. But I digress.
Something must've been up on I-95 because traffic was awfully heavy; plodding
along at about 65, 15 miles per hour slower than the usual frightening pace. But
the road was troublingly packed with cars like sardines. I stay my distance; but
one mustn't leave too much room between vehicles on the Merritt, or another
vehicle pulls into the slot ahead of you, perilously close, so one is forced to
apply the brakes and pray that the person in the car behind you isn't lighting a
We were just entering Westport when I watched as a car darted in front of the
SUV in front of me. I had to jam the brakes so hard the ABS
activated; and we came to a frigheningly fast, but complete stop. Before any of
us had time to catch our breath, we were hit from behind by what sounded like a
dozen baseball bats, all impacting at once. My vehicle was propelled forward into
the SUV in front of me, despite the brakes still being firmly applied. After
pulling completely off the road and stopping the engine, I coaxed the driver of
the SUV to remove her vehicle from the asphalt altogether and occupy the grass.
Then the same with the lady behind me, who was driving a small, decrepit VW
Jetta or something like that. Behind her was the cause of the whole mess; a
brand-new Acura; its front end all but destroyed, airbag deployed.
I was faced with:
- A lady in the VW who was alright enough to reach down and recover her
cigarettes, lighting one (against my advice, lest gasoline be pouring
somewhere) but who refused to get out of her car and also refused to remove
it from the roadway. She was chatting with someone on her cell phone.
- Three hysterical Chinese people telling me that we have enough money to
repair the dents to the car and that we shouldn't involve the police (two
even suggesting that we leave the scene of an accident). It's a
cultural thing. The police in China, especially the mainland, are very, very
bad people. People in China are deathly afraid of anyone in a
uniform. These fears die hard even after years in the United States. The
9-1-1 operator asked me four times if I was certain that nobody was injured
because she heard screaming in the background.
- A very big, creepy looking guy in cheap slacks, a polyester shirt and
white shoes who came up to me and suddenly smiled, reached out his hand to
shake mine and mentioned a restaurateur I knew. The
creepy guy was his cousin. This moron had just caused what I
estimated to be five figures in damage to four cars and he was acting like
nothing had happened and all of a sudden we were friends.
And then there was the poor young woman in front of me. So naive was she that
she asked if she was going to get a ticket because she hadn't updated the
address on her driver's license after moving (two months ago). I re-assured her
that the only one who was going to get a ticket was the guy who'd plowed into
the row of us and caused this mess. She breathed a sigh of relief. She asked me
if I'd called 911 and I said yes. She said she hoped the police would come soon
because she had a doctor's appointment an hour later. I told her that I felt
certain that what with all of us squeezed onto a tiny patch of grass, not on the
side, but in the middle of The Merritt Parkway, help would be on its way soon.
She quickly followed my advice to get as far away from the cars as possible and
sit inside one of the guardrails. She called her husband at work.
Then the creepy guy whose cousin I did, in fact, know relatively well,
approached me with a proposition. He said that if I don't make a claim against
his auto insurance he'll get my car fixed. Uh-oh. He kept on talking as I tried
to review in my mind's eye whether or not the Sienna had uninsured motorists'
Mr. creepy guy then was struck with a moment of clarity and realized I'd have
nothing of the sort, so he moved on to the young woman. He actually interrupted
her phone call. She explained that she was on the phone with her husband, so
creepy guy went away and started working on the lady sitting in the middle of
the road in her car smoking another cigarette, ignoring the honking coming from
the passing cars, which were reduced to a single lane of traffic.
The nice woman in the SUV got off the phone with her husband and I told her
not to say another word to him. She asked me if I knew him and I gave it to her
straight; I did not; but I knew his cousin. I didn't want to exacerbate things
by telling her that his cousin owned three Italian restaurants in the greater
Hartford area and had been convicted at one time of assault with a deadly weapon
(a piece of fireplace wood).
When the nice lady got off the phone, my wife was pouting (but sitting away
from the cars as instructed) and occasionally spitting vocal vitriol "I tell
you you always drive too close to people!" The chef was pacing around, glaring
at me. The waitress was crying to someone on her cell phone.
Small Talk in the Eye of the Storm
Nice lady and I commenced a conversation which began with small talk about
how soon the police would arrive. We both chuckled as we uttered "your tax
dollars at work" in near unison. She asked me where we lived and I told her. She
was from not too far away from us. We each discovered that we liked a particular
restaurant which one gets to by taking the exit up the road from where we were
parked. She'd heard my wife's venting, and even though, technically, I'd
rear-ended her car, she was doing her best to take me from a mood of breathless
agitation back down to earth somewhere. I realized this as I spoke with her. All
I could do was keep asking her if she was alright and if she needed a bottle of
water or something.
The State Police arrived just as the nice woman asked me if creepy guy and I
were driving somewhere together. I replied "oh, no" rather firmly. Then she
began to ask if I was "like, on TV or something..." I again waved no (I'm short and fat and not very good looking; Danny DeVito I am not), and turned
to face the trooper, whom it turned out couldn't have been a nicer guy. He
ascertained that we were all alright, but for the lady in the VW, who'd started
moaning loudly (on-cue) the moment the cop got out of his car. I guess she'd
seen plenty of "dial 555-LAWYER if you're injured in an accident"
commercials on daytime television.
The trooper was quite speedy about getting our information. I was relieved
when I saw the police report; creepy guy was indeed covered by a policy of
insurance provided by a reputable company. I guess he'd had a lot of these
run-ins and was tired of paying six grand a year for insurance.
The ambulance arrived for the moaning lady in the VW. I imagined big, white
cartoon eyes popping out of her head with green dollar signs on them.
The cop handed me my license and paperwork, and his report, and then said
something strange. "You can go now, if you think your car's driveable (it was,
obviously). I'm sorry if I acted a little short but that pregnant lady's got an
appointment with her doctor." The nice lady had already gotten back into her SUV
and was driving away cautiously.
"Yeah. She didn't tell you? She asked me not to give you a ticket for hitting
her. I told her you weren't gonna get one anyhow."
"No. She didn't. And you weren't short with us at all, officer."
Tomorrow I'm going to send this remarkable lady a card, wishing her, her
husband and child the very best. She may have looked young, but she's going to
make a heck of a good mother.