• Susannah Colt

GOING WITH THE FLOW - on America's super highway

I have come to the conclusion that life is nothing but a series of fits and starts and the best way to deal with it is to go with the flow. A story that illustrates that conclusion began on September 11 when I was driving home from having coffee with a friend in Warner, cruising north on I-93 on a sunny day with puffy white clouds in the sky. My dog was sleeping comfortably in the back seat and I was listening to NHPR, having a little trouble with the reception as we were getting closer to Franconia Notch, which is in between NPR satellite stations in Plymouth and Littleton. Finally I gave up, turned off the radio, and enjoyed the passing scenery in blissful silence.

Next thing I knew I was coming around a bend and saw a wall of red brake lights. The cars ahead of me seemed to be engaged in a well-choreographed dance, each lane forming a straight line slowly coming to a stop in their respective breakdown lanes, as if Moses had parted the sea of cars with his magic staff. I fell in line with the masses.

To the left of me was a tall granite cliff blocking my view of the southbound lane and to the right was mile-marker 91.2 and nothing bu trees. The next exit was 3 miles up the road and there was obviously no turning around or going back. The brake lights in front of me started to turn off; suggesting that the people ahead of me knew something I didn’t know, so I put my car in park and turned it off, wondering how long this delay would last.

Within a few minutes a woman in the right-hand breakdown lane got out of her car and started reading out loud from her phone that there was an accident half a mile up the road with a critically injured driver and passenger and we were going to be waiting for a while.

People began emerging from their cars and started walking up and down the road. One person with a dog walked past my car and my dog must have sensed the dog was near and started to get anxious. Once the dog was well out of sight, I got out of my car with my dog on her leash and stood in the middle of the highway taking in the scene. I chatted with a woman with a baby who wanted to meet my dog. I learned that they were from Lancaster, just up the road from where I live.

A young man with “Army” on his t-shirt was standing next to his truck. Two cars ahead of him a man got out of his car and walked toward the Army man. They looked at each other, did a double take and then hastened their pace toward each other, clasping hands and doing the man hug. Turns out they were high school classmates who hadn’t seen each other in ten years. I witnessed a reunion in the middle of the highway.

My writer brain clicked on and I decided I needed to write about this experience, so I went in search of other stories.

The next person I encountered was a woman leaning against her car with a New York license plate. I asked what brought her to NH and she cheerfully said that she and her husband had been to the Thunderbirds Air Show in Portsmouth, spent the night with friends in Durham, and were heading home. I inquired about where home was and she said Glens Falls, near Lake George. I proclaimed that I knew the area well since my family had vacationed on Lake George for years. We chatted about the storied lake where Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz spent extended summers painting and photographing the surroundings.

After spending some time reminiscing about my summers on the lake, I began to wonder what this couple was doing on I-93 heading toward Canada. Having become well quite acquainted with the North Country, personally proving the validity of the old adage, “you can’t get there from here,” I decided to ask how my new friends were getting home. They confidently declared that they were about to get on I-89 toward White River Junction and then cut across Vermont on Route 4. I knew that route well, having driven it many times before, so it broke my heart to tell them that they had driven about 60 miles out of their way.

The woman joked that she and her husband got lost all the time (I wondered to myself how they managed to remain married). Well, I declared, “this was a doozy!” Sadly I did not have my Road Atlas, which could have clearly shown them how badly they’d gone wrong, so I tried to show them on my phone how to get home. The man was writing down my directions and trying to map the course on his phone, but for some reason elected not to use his GPS. Granted the GPS is not always accurate, but surely it would have been better than going map-less. They seemed to take it all in stride.

At some point I noticed people dashing to their cars, engines roaring on, and realized it was time to saddle up for the ride home. One and one half hours after being abruptly stopped on the highway, I watched as the cars rolled slowly forward weaving into a single line of traffic to creep by the scene of the accident before speeding off toward their ultimate destination. It was impossible to avoid seeing the wreckage of a green SUV with the doors sawed off, pressed against a stand of trees in the median, about 100 feet from the fast lane of the highway.

The next day I learned that one of the rear tires of the crashed vehicle malfunctioned causing the car to careen out of control, rolling several times, ejecting the driver killing him, and critically injuring the passenger. A medical helicopter eventually came to pick up the passenger to take her to Dartmouth, but the man was declared dead when he reached the hospital in Plymouth.

In the flash of a second, death came to a man through no fault of his own, hundreds of people were stranded on the parking lot of a super highway, reuniting with old friends and getting directions from complete strangers, oblivious of the death and destruction happening just a half a mile up the road, proving that life is but a series of fits and starts, necessitating an ability to go with the flow.

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