What do you do when stuck in traffic for over 3 hours?
Yesterday afternoon,as we cruised northbound on I-75 in pouring rain, a screaming ambulance sped by us, foreshadowing events to come. Within minutes all three lanes of traffic slowed to a crawl - and then halted. So there we sat with our fellow stranded motorists, grid locked for what would turn out to be a 3-hour + delay.
I sat there sullenly with car idling for some time, appreciating the AC; the rain made it too unbearably muggy to open the windows. A motorist ahead of us opened their car door and stuck an umbrella out. We assumed they were nearly out of gas, or they had no AC.
I counted my blessings and tried to focus on the fact that it’s far better to be stuck in traffic from an accident then to be the accident. Eventually, the rain ceased. Ever hopeful that the traffic would move again, I alternated running the car and suffering from the heat. After an hour had passed our three-year-old wild-man was going stir-crazy so we let him out of his car seat. He had held up pretty good! Now he enjoyed the freedom of crawling about the car, looking out the windows and buckling up the shoulder belt like a ‘big boy.’ By this time, the majority of our fellow castaways had gotten out of their vehicles and were milling about, talking on cell phones, conversing with one another and dodging ambulances that were using the emergency lanes.
That’s one reason why it’s good to leave those lanes open.
One impatient young man raced by us in that emergency lane, much to everyone’s dismay. We wondered where he was trying to go – until he recklessly swung his car about in an attempt to cross the wide and very wet median. He got stuck, mired axle-deep in the soggy ground. He tried to drive out; his spinning tires throwing huge plumes of muddy water everywhere while parts of the undercarriage tore off his vehicle. But he wasn’t going anywhere. A guy in a truck took pity on him and eased him out with a pull line. Then he waded back into the median to retrieve the parts of his car.
We watched this circus for quite some time, there in our car. Eventually we shut off the engine and opened all the windows and suffered the heat ourselves. Some drivers turned around and headed south in the emergency lane. Another tried to cross that same median whereupon he got stuck as well. He immediately jumped out of the car, a woman slid into the driver’s seat and within moments he’d pushed the car free – and nearly into the southbound lane of I-75. The crowd applauded his efforts as he ran along grinning at the appreciative audience - until he smacked straight into the back of his car when the driver hit the brakes.
The crowd appreciated that even more.
As we sat, many other cars attempted this same maneuver, with varying results. One turned about and backed up as far as she could in that emergency lane. She wanted to get a running start to cross the great divide. She waited for a break in southbound traffic, gunned her engine and sped by us. Once up to speed she cut over, fishtailing as she crossed the wide and boggy median. We all held our breath. Miraculously she merged without incident.
A man in a van was even more reckless; he raced by us backwards in the northbound emergency lane and then cut across the flooded median into oncoming traffic.
It didn’t work. And he nearly got stuck trying to get back across. But quitters never prosper and since he didn’t get killed – he tried it again. This time he made it across the median, again backwards, tearing out his undercarriage as well. But he didn’t stop quickly enough; the rear of his van jutted into southbound traffic to the blare of honking horns and – I would imagine – a fair amount of cursing from those motorists unfortunate enough to have suddenly found him in their path. Thankfully they all missed him. I was just grateful he didn’t get anyone killed.
Don’t try this at home. Or on the Interstate.
Innumerable fire trucks, ambulances and cruisers from several agencies continued to pass us by in those emergency lanes, that is when those lanes were not clogged by errant motorists driving in the opposite direction. I imagine a fair amount of tickets were written. But still we didn’t see any tow trucks.
My wife took up conversation with a woman in the car next to us and eventually I got out of our vehicle with my boy. We visited with people and I let him crawl on top of the car thinking it would keep him out of harm’s way.
You’d think a 3-hour delay would bring out the worst in people, but everybody I met was kind, considerate and remarkably okay with everything. Despite the incredibly muggy weather, the rumor that four people were dead and that six trucks had crashed in three separate accidents and numerous other vehicles were involved, everyone made the best of it. One lad took photos with his cell phone of every motorist who tried to illegally escape. Another group played fetch with their dog. Many talked on their phones and someone had a laptop out. People watched DVDs.
And then someone opened a hotdog stand! No kidding. A mobile hot dog stand was stuck there behind us and so they opened for business. My boy and I walked down and got some dogs and chips and drink. Our delay had turned into an impromptu social gathering right smack-dab in the middle of I-75.
My son resumed his car climbing. I still felt it was safer than allowing him to wander about on the highway. Silly me. The moment I wasn’t there to watch him he fell and skinned his knee. But have no fear; our new friends came to the rescue! A retired nurse brought a Band-Aid and the fellow behind me supplied baby wipes. My son was quickly cured; it’s amazing, the healing properties of a Band-Aid or two. When the Band-Aid came off, another nice lady offered him hers.
A Florida Highway Patrol friend of mine, one of Florida’s Finest, cruised by and I caught his attention; he backed up. We talked about a bunch of things but foolishly I completely forgot to ask how much longer the delay might be. When he took off I turned to discover a small throng of curious motorists looking at me expectantly, and asking, “So? How much longer? What happened?” Etc. Oops. I didn’t know. But I had learned that no one had been killed, which was good news. But there were injuries and a helicopter was en route. Soon thereafter, to our delight, three monster tow trucks cruised by. There was light at the end of the tunnel.
By now it had been over three hours, but socializing had helped that time to pass quickly, and it wasn’t long before we were saying farewell to our newfound friends and cruising home.
Now as I look back upon our little gathering in the middle of I-75, I can think of no better group of people to be stranded with, my faith in humanity renewed.