Going where it's warm

I don't much like to hurtle down the highway hanging on to the door handle for dear life, but that's the way it is when I ride downtown with my husband. It's the Vanderbilt Cup Race, and we're running second. Actually, my husband doesn't exceed the speed limit; it just seems that way. His courage is equaled by his talent for maneuvering from one lane to another. It is life in the fast lane, then the slow, then the fast again. He tries to explain it to me, but he doesn't have to. I understand. He drives 10 miles to town and 10 miles back every working day. It's this competitive world, and you can have it.

I learned to drive in a parking lot, on a Sunday, and that's the way it's been ever since. I choose the tranquil route, the peaceful street. Once it cost $600 to get my car fixed, but that was because the woodpile fell on it. in the garage. The insurance people agreed to pay for it, but they looked askance.

I have one course memorized to the grocery store, one for the shopping center, one that leads to the library. My husband doesn't ride with me. He says it takes forever to get from here to there through residential areas, stopping at every traffic light. But I don't have to dart out into traffic, turning left against the flow, my pulse pounding in my throat, my gum stuck to the top of my mouth.

When my son was in high school, he talked me into taking his route one Tuesday morning. It was a hair-raising experience. We went through the bank drive-in, in and out of the gas station, and ended up a block from school after circling through the shopping mall, somehow managing to avoid the barriers that had been put up to keep people out. That was the last year I drove in a car pool.

My single courageous experience on the highway came a few years ago at the end of January. The apartment we rented in Florida was sitting there waiting. Snow fell all through the weekend, great volumes of snow, huge flakes of beautiful white stuff piling up unceasingly and stranding automobiles and semitrailers along the roads and turnpikes. The travelers' advisory was to stay home.

The snowstorm ended during the night on Sunday, and Monday was bright with sunshine. By noon things looked pretty good. I called my husband's office. He was out to lunch. I left word that I was leaving for Florida, that I'd meet his plane in a week. I backed out of the garage. So far so good.

With 1,200 miles to go, I took 270 and 71 and turned south. One lane was open and clear. I was almost the only person who had ventured forth. I couldn't believe it. Billowing waves of snow extended from the highway as far as I could see, and vehicles, countless numbers of them, had been abandoned at the side of the road and on the median strip. I began to feel like half of Lewis and Clark.

In the brilliant sunshine, the narrow lane I followed began to widen. I was worried that I might be driving on a film of ice, and I slowed down and strained to see the surface of the road ahead. I finally stopped the car, got out, and put my hand down on the pavement. It was bare and warm.

On the third day, at sunset, I drove up to the apartment complex. Four men were coming off the golf course. They were headed into the building, and they were smiling. They helped me unload the car and carry everything into the elevator. Since that daring adventure, I've been content to jolly down the road, wherever I am, checking the birds on telephone poles, the condition of the trees, strangers passing in cars, and life in general. I hum a lot.

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