“Oh no, I shouldn’t have taken this road…” I muttered to myself as the car cruised past the Rode’s Fireside restaurant and turned right at the Exxon gas station into Paulsboro Road. Did the car turn by itself? Is this a dream...It felt as though the car was driving itself and knew exactly where it was going.
It was a cold dark winter night and I was running late on my way to pick up my son from the train station. The roads were treacherous. The visibility was poor. There was this repeated onslaught of snow mixed with freezing rain. Out of sheer habit I had turned into this road. This was a quiet scenic road through the countryside that led to the interstate highway. On a normal day it gave me some breathing room before getting onto busier roads. But on a day like this it would have been much better to take a road that had been applied with salt. By lowering the freezing point, salt makes the roads less risky - although I believe it has a negative impact on the farmlands adjacent to the road.
Paulsboro Road is a narrow road with wide stretches of farmlands on both sides. Since there is not much traffic on a normal day, one can gaze at the beautiful scenery along the way.
One of the sombre sights is the St. Joseph’s cemetery on the left with its neatly arranged array of tombstones - providing a comfortable burial place to the dead and a feeling of warm comfort to the grieving. But waking us from our comfortable illusion - reminding us silently of our own mortality.
Across from the cemetery is the Nike missile site. A cold war relic. A memory of a time when soldiers spent the day monotonously watching the skies for Russian bombers. Ever ready to fire a missile to protect the city and the nation's precious assets from getting destroyed by bombers.
There are quaint looking houses on both sides of the road. Many of them now sadly foreclosed. Reminiscent of the greatest recession of our time that has crashed home prices. The owners of these foreclosed houses forced out, some having fallen victim to predatory lending. One house is deserted for a long time but has a gorgeous view of the creek. I remember once going inside the house just to take in the views, pretending to be an interested real-estate buyer. The basement of the house was full of molds and high watermarks showing frequent flooding. As I hurried out, I shivered at the thought of living in a house with great views of the lake but with the basement filled up to its brim with the lake water. It needs some TLC - the agent said.
Another house belongs to a boat enthusiast showing off his collection on the front yard. Each time I drive past that house I am tempted to slow down and count the boats. I think there are seven boats in total. Or maybe eight or nine, I can’t say for sure because I have never stopped to count.
Another house has a sign inviting people to stop and buy organic eggs and also farm grown tomatoes. Then there is one house that has a fake speed limit sign asking drivers to slow down to 15mph. All of a sudden there is this railway crossing that comes up with no warning. Fortunately it is never used. Then comes a little white church on the bend in the road. The Repaupo United Methodist Church. The message is clear. Learn Jesus. Live Jesus. Teach Jesus. The church stands quietly - reflecting on its theological inheritance and bearing witness to our irreverent times.
Right next door is the Hindu temple -Sri Rajaganapathi temple. It has a large collection of bronze statues of Lord Ganesha. It now has a car park area designated for “Car Puja”, a ceremony to bless the vehicle in God’s name and keep it safe from harm’s way.
The scenic Paulsboro Road of the day had turned into a dark slippery road now. Suddenly I saw lights of a vehicle approaching from around a bend and I swerved to the right. But in doing so the tires of my car landed on an icy patch that made the car skid. The back of the car was moving to the right. The front of the car was turning to the left. A collision seemed inevitable. I seemed to have no control of the car. It was a panic filled moment. Was I going to hit the vehicle coming towards me. What should I do now. Should I swerve to the side ditch and try to make the car stop…in that slippery moment I had removed my foot from the accelerator, pumped on the brakes several times and maneuvered the car by turning the steering wheel to the right - in the direction of the skid. I somehow managed to calm the car down. At that fluid moment, the snow flurry came beating down on the car’s windshield. It felt like a galaxy full of stars was falling through dark space landing straight onto the car, only momentarily visible in the car’s headlights.
In the next moment I realized the oncoming vehicle had passed, the car was now steady, and the snow was falling quietly. I had slowed down from the earlier 40mph. Now I decided not to go beyond 20 to 25mph. Better late than never. Along the road came the fire station and then signs of shops started appearing - announcing the arrival of the highway and before I knew it, the Paulsboro road had led to the interstate highway I-295, bringing me to the busy hum of modernity. It felt like I had just crossed a rare corridor that connected the rural with the urban, and the past with the present.
Even though I was now on the highway, and the roads were salted and mostly clear - my earlier experience made me decide to drive slowly and I stayed on the middle lane going at a steady speed of 25mph. There were cars on the fast lane on my left that were going at twice the speed. The slow lane on my right was partly covered with snow and there were not that many cars on that lane.
Suddenly a car drove past me on the slow lane on my right. I saw it go past me and then it started skidding wildly - right in front of my eyes!
I was horrified to death and started screaming at the top of my lungs. The driver seemed to have lost control completely. His car had now turned perpendicular to the road and was going straight for the middle barrier that separated the opposing lanes of traffic. I had taken my foot off the accelerator and was slowly pumping on my brakes, making sure my car did not start skidding as well. His car narrowly missed mine as it skidded past me and crashed into the barrier. If I had been driving any faster than my slow and steady pace - I would have most certainly crashed into that car. As the other car now ricocheted back onto the highway, it just missed the tail of my car. All of this happened in a fraction of a second.
As I chugged along that night at my slow and steady pace - right behind a salt truck, I could hear the ambulance and police cars wailing to the rescue. I was thanking my lucky stars and also thanking my earlier experience of turning into Paulsboro Road by mistake – after all that experience had taught me to really slow down and drive slowly in the snow.
I was reluctant to drive any more that night. But due to prior commitments we did end up going to a get-together at a friend’s place. By the time we returned home it was 1am. The snow had stopped and the roads were empty. Everything looked peaceful and the snow even looked pretty hanging on the branches, shining in the moonlight. As I was parking the car in our garage, I noticed the neighbor’s driveway did not have any tracks on the snow. The neighboring cars had stayed off the treacherous roads.
As I switched the ignition off, I thought I heard my car chuckle. It certainly had come a long way tonight.