VERNON COUNTY - It’s my first morning drive to work after setting our clocks back. I’m relishing the fact that I am about to witness the darkness turn softly to light. I’m wondering what surprises today will bring. I’m thinking about a friend whose husband recently died, and how I saw four eagles the next morning and then learned that the eagle had been his favorite bird.
I am driving and thinking and watching out for deer.
I have the windows closed and the radio isn’t on. Your headlights startle me at the same time the noise from your truck does. I look in my rearview mirror but all I see are bright lights. My concentration is ruined, the peacefulness of my early morning drive shattered. I adjust my rearview mirror so your headlights won’t be so annoying. I want to get back to focusing on driving and thinking.
It’s 6:30 a.m. on a desolate highway leading into town. It’s also rutting season. One week ago I was blindsided by a buck that ripped the windshield wiper off my car and cracked the grille; he rolled three times but was able to get up and run off. I stopped the car for a minute to get my heart rate to slow down. I got out and grabbed my wiper off the road and checked my front end for damage. As I drove away I thought both the deer and I got off easy. I was thankful.
But I’m not about to take chances of that happening again. I’ve already seen two bucks cross the road in my headlights on County SS this morning.
I manage to get back to my zen-like state after glancing at my speedometer a few times: 50, 51, 52 miles per hour. A decent speed for the time of day, the highway, and the season. I know better than to let you push me into a speed I don’t feel comfortable with. I refuse to let you bully me.
Did you know driving that close to a car’s back end is bullying? Also dangerous and crazy? If I need to stop suddenly for a deer there is no way in this quiet valley you can stop quickly enough without slamming the front end of your pickup into the back end of my car...and you’re bigger than me.
Certainly our cars would get hurt and my guess is that we would too. I have my seat belt on, but do you? Hitting me at 50 mph without a seat belt could mean flying through your windshield.
I had a neighbor who used to live on the ridgetop above me. On a morning similar to this one, where you insist on trying to scare me half to death, he was hit by another car. He doesn’t live near me anymore. He lives in La Crosse with a round-the-clock nurse who helps him maneuver his wheelchair, his breathing apparatus, and his life. He is a quadriplegic.
The road winds back and forth; so does my car, and so does your truck. You have become a burr on my tail, a thorn in my side, a menace to society. For the most part I’m able to tune you out. I drive with both hands on the wheel. I am careful and acutely aware of my surroundings. I’m on high alert for bucks following the scent of the does without any regard for roads or cars. I don’t want to hit a deer—and I don’t want to be hit.
I haven’t slowed down and I’ve maintained my speed. It has become lighter out. I watch the car clock turn. You haven’t backed off of my rear end, and, after ten long minutes, I figure out you aren’t about to.
I start thinking about the new yellow lines they recently painted on this stretch of highway. Broken yellow lines were repainted into solid yellows. I think of this because I worry you are going to try to pass me on the double yellow and there isn’t anywhere I feel safe enough to pull over.
I’m driving and thinking that I have my First Responder certification. If you hit me and I’m able to move I will get out of my car and come back to your truck and help you if necessary. I will look, listen, and feel for your breath. I will carefully reposition your head to open your airway. I will...
My thinking stops with the sound of your acceleration. Your truck is so close beside me I could reach out my window and almost touch it. Then you swerve in front of me and wham, you slam on your brakes. I slam on mine. My head snaps. My brain is on fire. One minute I was wondering how I’d save you and now I’m hating you.
I dislike that you were able to take me to a place of anger. I was doing okay with your immaturity, impatience, and recklessness until that moment. My leg feels like it’s working one of those old-fashioned sewing machinespump-pump-pump. I’m filled with adrenaline, and my heart is beating wildly against my rib cage.
I can see your taillights receding down the highway. I’ve readjusted my mirror. I’ve readjusted my attitude and I’m managing to drive. I’m getting back to thinking, and as I approach the city limits I can still see you ahead of me, already in the 25-mph zone.
My foot has stopped jerking and my heart rate has returned to normal. I pull up to the first stop sign in over ten miles and your truck is right in front of me.
Dear red truck driver, was that necessary? Can we all please agree to think while we’re driving?