Driving along this lonely Florida road at night is something that no one could pay me to do ever again.
The mist and fog creeping out of the invisible forest engulf your car, reducing visibility to zero. No lights paint the darkness. No shapes appear; no one's house; no person; no animal; no distant yellow glimmer from any building or telecommunications tower; no sound. Truly, only the darkness. And the breathtaking, perversely sweet scent of gardenia trees growing, invisibly, along the side of the narrow, winding, ink-black road, and the constant moisture rendering your windshield opaque.
Odds are, you are not from Florida, America's swamp. Neither am I. But I have seen enough of it during the past year to know that this place must be the only hill in the entire state. Florida is low, flat, wet land. In a lot of places, it barely qualifies as land at all.
You have probably never met someone who's trying to kill you before. If you want to keep it that way, don't be tempted to take 40 as a shortcut when driving across Florida.
Ascending a hill in ultimate darkness at exactly fifty miles per hour, we were suddenly blinded by headlights in the rearview mirror. Everything around us was dark; the road disappeared ahead into darkness; there was no shoulder; we squinted at the windshield like tourists staring into the sun.
The other driver sped by us in a large, long black pickup truck modified with half-height monster truck tires. We were thirty miles from the last town at this point. A short distance ahead of us in the empty road, the truck's brake lights glowed red. The driver served back and forth across the yellow line, then flicked all of his car lights off. He made a fast, sloppy u-turn and accelerated back towards us, driving in our lane.
We had thought from "drunk" to "crazy" to "homicidal" quickly enough to copy his maneuver, and we flew down the unfamiliar, windy road faster than was safe in our rusted 1995 Neon. But there was obviously no way that our car was going to outrun a modded, heavy-duty truck.
Luckily we had been coming up a long hill, so when we reached the bottom of it now, we slid into another turn and headed back towards the truck. Although he had caught us when we were alone, we had seen several other cars since we'd turned onto Route 40 from I-75, and we knew that locals did travel the road. All he had to do was mistake us for someone else's headlights.
But I think of him as one of nature's freaks, like those mutant-long snakes or ancient alligators that obscure villages call in scientists and hunters to capture and remove. We feel lucky to have made our escape. He's out there, lurking, lying in wait for the next out-of-state license plate to fluoresce in the brightness of his truck's yellow beams. So stay away from Rt. 40 where it goes through the Ocala National Forest. Back roads in lonely swamps where the only law is a man, his pickup truck and maybe his gun may sound like things you'd only encounter at the movies, but there's a reason why the image has become familiar to us all. It does have a certain basis in reality.