I have just driven on a highway. This may seem trivial, but I have not driven on a highway in many years. I don’t remember exactly when I decided not to drive on highways anymore, but it was probably before Clinton was President.
There are reasons why I chose not to drive on highways, mainly revolving around the lack of control over one’s destination that highways force upon people (there being no way off a highway except the occasional exit), and the anxiety that situation causes in a person given to agoraphobic tendencies like myself. When combined, these reasons seem to raise the possibility of speedy, sudden death into the highest ranges of probability.
I had to go on the highway today because there’s this river in the way in the middle of Albuquerque (a bit to the west, actually). Unlike Boston where the Charles River is forded by several bridges whose surfaces are regular roadways and avenues, this river in Albuquerque – which goes by the name of the Rio Grande – is only crossed by a couple highways. If you want to get to the west-most edge of the city, there’s no alternative.
The pressing demand that forced my hand was a need for a piece of foam core, large enough to watch projected tv on. And the only place for such a thing is Staples. And the only Staples nearby is on the other side of the Rio Grande. Which explains why I hadn’t managed to find a Staples earlier, by the way.
I mapped it on Yahoo and Google, noting that I’d only be on this highway for one stretch, one entrance to one exit. Just on and then off; dramatically reducing the chances that I would accidentally stay on the highway and end up forced into some other city against my will.
Looking ahead to the return trip, oddly, the satellite view offered on the web would not picture the actual exit ramp area. I figured either my slow internet connection was responsible, or perhaps they’d remade the offramps and so they deleted the older satellite image. In any case the map version showed what looked like a manageable octopus tangle of curves with perhaps two decisions to make in order to get back onto the highway to get back home. A few too many for my comfort, but, if I was going to do this, traffic can’t be any lighter than on a Sunday like today.
So I went, and getting on to the highway was easy. There were signs and I knew this side of the city in any case. Up onto the exit, picking up speed, thankful that it appeared that this section of highway doesn’t instantly merge with the existing lanes. I have never understood how anyone expects anyone to be able to instantly merge. I mean for christssakes, it is assuming a lot to assume that people will be able to merge immediately. What does one do if one cannot? There’s no option! But in my case the rightmost lane continued for awhile, so no immediate threat of collision with the car to my left.
The roadway was made of grooved lines of concrete rather than asphalt, which made a sound not unlike the sound I’d heard a week earlier of my airplane running up the landing strip. The roadway tilted up, up and soon one could tell that one was passing over the Rio Grande. I felt a bit of pride that I could now say I’d forded the Rio Grande under my own power (or close enough for modern times). Still nervous. Looking for the exit ahead, the simple part of what would later be an octopus like ramp system for getting home.
Simplicity went out the window as the interchange ahead became visible as a sea of organge cones, giant machine-trucks, workers, and concrete barriers a go-go. The satellite view on the website had been empty because this interchange was still being built! Fortunately my exit still had a presence in the form of a temporary exit. I was a bit unsure of myself in regard to how much to cut my speed – if I’d had a choice I’d have opted for many 25 or 30 miles per house but it looked like most other drivers wanted about 45. I scraped through ok, and catching sight of the Staples off to my right I soon found the Staples and an entire WalMart plaza. No Best Buy in this particular plaza so I’ll give this plaza only a “C”. (No, I don’t actually rate shopping plazas, and wouldn’t it be weird if I did?)
I quietly acknowledged my self-posed question of “Is there anything more confounding to a plan than to discover one’s way is under construction?” with “no, that’s pretty much it.”
As I walked through Staples, calmly shopping for foam board, I kept wondering about the near future, and the serious question: Would I get home? Would I have to phone up my housemate and have her come to the plaza and lead me out? Would I have to drive further north to a less-under-construction highway that also would take me back east over the river? Or would I just risk the return I had planned, despite the construction – and if I did, would I live?
“You have to press the button again, sir.” the Staples cashier told me, breaking my reverie of staring out the windows of Staples at the expressway which loomed forty feet above the ground level at the edge of the plaza.
I wished I had one of those bumper stickers like the mother of the Partridge Family had on the back of her bus: “nervous driver”. C’mon get happy.
I decided I’d try to get back the way I planned, hoping that the construction may even have reduced the speeds in such a way that it may even be easier to find the entrance to the eastern direction of traffic.
With many of the local roads closed off due to the construction it took me awhile to find the approach to the highway. Up ahead I’d have to decide which lane to get into. Thankfully the construction people had actually put up signs every fifty feet or so. My curving tentacle of the octopus was not exactly where it had been on the map, and one tentacle was missing, and the roadway curved through a field of dirt rather than somewhere more permanent, but it did steer me onto the highway, due east, as I’d wanted. The return over the Rio Grande was less frightening because now I was sloping down rather than rising up. There was still a good view of various mountains that seem to encircle this city. And I saw some familiar skyscrapers (or the Albuquerque variety of skyscrapers, which means maybe 22 floors) that confirmed I was indeed headed towards the place I’d left.
My exit was straightforward, and I soon turned right onto the regular streets I have become fairly used to in this first week in Albuquerque.
The next time I go to this mall I will be going with someone else driving, but, I will eventually perhaps try it again. Either to find a Best Buy, or to go to Colorado.