Ross Mackenzie

With summer's last major travel weekend coming up, herewith a story about a seminal experience.

Your correspondent is a rural-dwelling driver, a veteran of long road trips. A recent weekend required a Friday drive up I-95 to a wedding - with a Sunday return. The wedding was marvelous (like babies, what wedding isn't?), but the drive was close to impossible. A trip that usually requires six hours took eight going up and nine and a half coming back. It may have been the last such roadie, ever.

The local habit is to trek fewer than 10 minutes to the interstate, and then 20 minutes to work.

On country roads, one soon gets used to schlepping along behind tractors, horse vans, and biker clutches whose groups have put these roads on scenic biking maps. One frequently slows or brakes for walkers and joggers, for darting bunnies and deer, for even the occasional horse or cow. Six-cylinder baling-wire pickups are common barely making it along on two. And let us not overlook the wandery, blue-haired come-hithers out to gawk at the latest ridiculous la-de-da monster house.

The theory is that out on the interstate highways of life, things are supposed to be different. Everyone is supposed to be able to roll along at 65 mph (or so), except when stuck behind the occasional left-lane squatter who goes 60 while plucking her eyebrows or while romancing his sweetie via cell phone or while taking out a deed on the entire left lane from Portland to Key West.

That weekend, that theory wasn't working.

Miles-long backups had traffic at standstills both ways. Some of the backups your travel consultant found himself in were five to 10 miles long. One for traffic going the opposite way - on everybody's favorite New Jersey Turnpike - was dead-stopped for 25. Yes, it was accident-caused; people likely were maimed or killed; the police, rescue-squadsmen, and tow-truckers were doing the best jobs they could - and they are very good indeed.

In the backed-up traffic, it was a happening. Kids tossed Frisbees. Adonises and damsels who should have known better - who should have spared us - lounged in beach chairs perched atop their conversion vans. Some put up porta-potties and cooked for the adjacent groups on their Webers. Cars overheated. Cell phones and battery TVs were everywhere. Long-lost buddies were rediscovered, babies perhaps conceived.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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