After the fiasco that wound up being Christmas, I looked forward to celebrating the New Year with my sister at her home. Sure, it’s two hours away but we’re both isolated. My car hasn’t toted me across the state line since February and I was itching to explore past its borders. I had the week off between the holidays and although I couldn’t do much until I tested negative for COVID-19 twice (and I did, thankfully), the prospect of eating cookies and treats I should’ve enjoyed a week earlier gave me something to look forward to.
Nothing says happiness like a batch of freshly-baked sticky buns, or nut roll, to accompany an armful of well-curated gifts. Those waited for delivery as I drove down the NJ Turnpike, then onto back roads, arriving at my sister’s place well in advance of midnight. We opened gifts and along with a socially-distanced, masked friend, we toasted the New Year’s outside under the crashing serpentine fireworks. On New Year’s Day, I’m happy to report, we did almost nothing except eat and watch “Wonder Woman 84” plus a few other films. Even on Saturday, my sister and I enjoyed a gorgeous day outside, taking a drive to the shore.
All of this sounds wonderful, and it was. What spoiled it for me was opening my news apps. Which I shouldn’t have done. Especially before bedtime. There’s a reason why I do this. Before I go to bed each night, I write in my journal whatever’s on my mind, but I also keep a log of COVID-19 cases. I track the numbers for New York State, my county and my town. It’s a geeky thing to do, but I see it as a historical record. At some point these numbers might be useful somehow. My county has local numbers and so does the New York Times. I record whatever’s posted at the top of my entry, then continue on with whatever it is I’m writing about.
I’m not going to go into what awaited me in the New York Times, or Politico, or even Twitter. Let’s just say what was contained within spoiled my happiness and filled me with disappointment and anger. And it went into my journal, as well as my reaction to the headlines.
An impending snowstorm forced me to leave my sister’s earlier than I wanted to this morning, but I didn’t want to risk getting trapped on the NJ Turnpike and subsequent roads that’d take me home. Listening to music helped me, but I still seethed in anger that events happening now draw an uneasy parallel to what led to World War II. Fortunately, some good music kept me distracted, including “The New Year” by Death Cab for Cutie. It’s actually perfect. The lyrics simply say that we should just celebrate what we have, instead of expecting more.
I turn onto another highway and as I do, the rain changes to ice. The road becomes slick, so I slow down. Not more than two car lengths ahead, a gray car fishtails. Instinctively, I take my foot off the gas and brake gently, trying to distance myself from the inevitable. The gray car swerves uncontrollably right into my lane. My focus is sharp on the car while my heart starts skipping beats. For a moment it seems like I might crash into the car, but I maintain my cool and slow my car down enough so the gray car slides in front of me and continues on to the left lane. I check the rearview mirrors. Other cars see what’s happened and their drivers slow as well. Last thing I want is for me to be the only one dropping down to 30. The gray car comes to rest on the left hand shoulder and, mercifully, in one piece. Only then do I realize I’ve been gripping the wheel so tightly that my fingers are white and cramped.
The gray car wasn’t speeding. The driver just hit a patch that caused the car to spin. That could’ve happened to anyone, myself included. I silently thank God and the universe for allowing me to remain calm and alive.
For the rest of the journey, I drive well below the speed limit. The weather grows worse. Heavy snow coats the roadway. Drivers create asphalt tracks in the right lane, so I follow them. The center and left lanes remain white, nearly untouched by traffic. My wiper blades are thick with frozen slush, although the defroster helps somewhat. I strain to see at times, but am well aware of the accident on the southbound side. A little girl stands with her father as his front end lies separated in the snow.
Then like a miracle, a giant salt truck and plow have already tended to the stretch of road ahead. It’s clear, although wet. Some drivers take advantage of this and speed up. Not me. I’m still about 35 miles from home. After what I’ve seen, I’m sticking to my slow speed. Though my exit hasn’t been salted, the road it leads me to is in decent shape, although I slid through a red light, unable to stop. The cars on the other ends of the intersection saw me coming and didn’t move until I went past.
Finally, I pull into my driveway and heave a sigh. Have to collect myself before I can even think about opening the door. Snow still melts on my warm windshield. But I’m okay. After I unload the car, I notice the front end of my car wore a thick coat of icy slush. My house is freezing. I don’t care. I’m home. It’s time for coffee and whatever snacks I have laying around.
The couch is calling me, so I settle down and sip my coffee. How much the drive home feels like the new year – dangerous, coming close to disaster, yet with a slow, careful and experienced approach, things will be all right. Just keep calm and think clearly.