Instant community

The sprinkling of brake lights warned us of trouble ahead. Sure enough, traffic slowed then came to a stop. Air brakes wheezed on 18-wheelers on our right side. Just ahead, the thump-thump of a car radio at high volume pierced the air, insinuating its way through our closed windows. Driving on I-85 near Charlotte is no one’s idea of fun, but we had been treated to light traffic for the first 25 miles or so as we headed homeward the morning after our our family gathering and gift exchange. Until now.

This particular area around Kannapolis has been challenging drivers for a long time. A road-widening project has fouled up traffic there for years, it seems, and current appearances offer little cause for optimism. This project will continue to work its magic for a long time to come. But on this day in late December, road work was not to blame for our stoppage. What was?

We managed to creep forward for a few yards very now and then, typically 5 miles per hour, occasionally up to 8. Mostly we just sat. Gives one an opportunity to make new friends, exchanging rueful smiles with other drivers, read license plates. Instant community. A rare opportunity to connect with others, all of us caught in the same fix, all wondering what was causing this delay.

After a full hour of vehicular paralysis, we all had our answer. On the right shoulder, a bent guard rail and a gouge on fresh dirt disturbing the bank of weeds. Farther ahead on the shoulder, a mangled car dangling from the rear of a wrecker’s truck. Suddenly, the road opens ahead, and cars and heavy trucks are whizzing along at highway speeds. One wonders how long the wreck had been moved out of the way and both lanes cleared. Maybe a good while. But we all wanted to our moment to have a good look at the cause of our inconvenience. So we gawked, a natural reaction, one supposes. One wonders at the cause. Did the driver fall asleep? Was he or she involved with a phone? Texting perhaps?

Betsy and I were not in a hurry. We wanted to get home, of course, but our timing wasn’t as urgent, perhaps, as it might have been for some of our neighbors on the road. Naturally we were glad to get going again.

But we did enjoy that instant community. For a while.

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