Incident at 5th and Main

Actually, it was at Thacher Park Road and Indian Ledge Road, but 5th and Main sounded more newsy. And this is Human Nation News–something I’ve been neglecting because I sort of lost my vision, and I sort of felt it was too big and unfocused.

Right now, I just want to tell a story about my drive up to Thacher Park this morning. I do this every Saturday and Sunday, usually in the morning but sometimes late afternoon, and I do it to escape from the pressures of day-to-day life. TheseĀ  pressures include at least 80 minutes of commute every weekday on the Adirondack Northway–Interstate 87 for those who like numbers. It isn’t for the faint of heart, or if you are you’d better be in the right-hand lane and hope someone who can’t pass on the left to their liking doesn’t barrel down on your ass.

Accident N87 Exit 4-5

Image from the Times Union. Photo: Skip Dickstein

After commuting thus every day for over a year, and three days a week for 2.5 years before that, I have “had it” with being herded by aggressive drivers, being passed on the right (sometimes being passed on the right and left simultaneously–a tactic I call flanking), and watching cars weave over lane boundaries while their drivers text or eat complicated meals involving spoons or forks. I have had it with fatal crashes that send the rest of us lucky blokes who weren’t killed off the Northway and into congestion that delays arrival time by hours. I have had it with spending 80 minutes of my life every day just to get to work and home again, but I’m grateful I have a job. That’s what I’m supposed to say, and it is true, but….

Anyway, I back up to the end of my driveway this morning and nothing is going by on our usually very busy street–that is, until I actually get to the end of the driveway and all of a sudden there are three cars perfectly spaced so I have to wait what seems a long time just to back out and get going. And once I do get going, immediately it seems a big black truck is on my tail. I’m driving my usual 5 mph over the speed limit in a 30 mph zone, but it isn’t fast enough for this one and he’s right on my ass. I do my best to relax and simply drive, listen to music, enjoy the ride to the woods, but that big truck in my rearview mirror takes its toll. Precious life energy spent realigning myself away from a habitual feeling of being herded wherever I go.

These are winding roads, and I will pull over and invite people to pass when it is viable, but sometimes it is not. Today it was not. Finally the truck turns and I am free of the hulking presence behind me. I get through Voorheesville and on to 85A nicely. Just as I like it–dog with her head out the window, me singing to Badfinger or Mike Doughty, or Courtney Barnett or Ana Egge or oh, lots of things. Life is good, and then I see a motorcycle coming up fast from behind. He slows when he gets near and doesn’t ride up my ass, but I know I’m going slower than he wants to go. My 5 mph rule is too conservative for this busy world I know but I like driving slow, especially in the country and especially in the morning–the animals still are out on the pavement and it is hazardous to their welfare to drive fast in the country in the morning.

I pass a man jogging with his jogging stroller, making a sweeping arc into the other lane to avoid crowding them, and the motorcycle does the same. I slow and swerve to avoid hitting an already dead skunk. Turn onto 85 and lose the motorcycle for a while on the steep ascent, but then he’s back and my Fit just ain’t cutting it up to 55 on that hill. I turn on to Thacher Park Road and he does the same. I sigh and tell myself I’ll lose him when I turn on Indian Ledge, my secret winding long-cut to Thacher, but when I put my turn signal on I look in the mirror and see his go on, too. At this point, this instant, I lose my patience and pull over to the side of the road. He is still behind me because there are two cars coming the opposite direction and we have to wait before we can turn. When they pass he still waits behind me. I look at him in my sideview mirror: he’s an old-school motorcyclist–the way I imagined Robert Pirsig while reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He’s got a no-frills helmet, a brown leather jacket, and jeans. His motorcycle is just a motorcycle–not a crotch rocket or other overblown thing. He’s a guy out to enjoy the morning and I am angry and motion angrily for him to go-on-ahead-what-are-you-waiting-for? He looks at me, calmly nods, and does just that, and suddenly I am crying, knowing he meant no offense or even to make me drive faster than I wanted to drive. Just a man out enjoying the morning, as I had wanted to do before I let all the baggage I carry drag me down.

Hear ye, fellow traveler: Thank you for your gentle response to my anger today, for popping the boil of my day-to-day pressure and giving me a glimpse into my own insanity in this insane world. I’ll try to do better next time.