New Orleans As the old saying goes, “I don’t want to put my dirty mouth on it.” As mi companera frequently counsels about death and disasters, “don’t open the window,” warning that even the mention or premotion is almost causal. Having driven over 100,000 miles on my truck in hardly four years and, as United reminds me every time I go near their counter, I have way over a million miles just on their airline, not counting Delta, American, and a punch of no-namers and longgoners. US airlines regularly tout their current safety records. Traffic fatalities on the other hand are an annual killing machine of near cancerous proportions. I have to admit though sometimes while daydreaming on the road or in the air I challenge my declining math skills and wonder if with each flight or mile on the road, are the odds starting to run against me? I don’t waste any time in the air in this regard, since it’s so totally out of my control. On the other hand, like most drivers, I continue to convince myself that on the road, I control my own destiny.
Then there’s the super fog crashes on I-55 that make me wonder who I’m fooling. I drive that route almost monthly between New Orleans, Little Rock, and beyond. I know every mile after all of these years. Last Wednesday, I pulled out at 4am and crossed before the water 5am. I left Marble Falls at 3am this Monday and by 11 was making great time with Lucha racing south on 55 with hardly an hour left before I hit the city. I’d been hearing from my son, Chaco, off and on throughout the morning, because he was going to be driving north from New Orleans to Little Rock and our paths were bound to cross somehow. He usually leaves around 9am. His first call was slightly before that. There was heavy fog in the city because of temperature changes complicated by swamp fires. He was being rerouted on I-10 to Baton Rouge, he said. I told him where he would pick up Highway 61, famed from Dylan’s song about the highway running along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Minnesota, and either join I-55 past Lake Ponchartrain and Lake Maurepas or keep going to Vicksburg and catch I-20 to Talullah and then north. He called me again when he connected to 55. He said he had lost about an hour on the detour. Next I heard from him, he was at the Hammond mile marker around 30, and I was on I-55 south around mile 61. We might not see each other, but we would look and see and honk in 15 minutes or so.
No luck, we missed each other, but then I saw a blinking sign that said I-55 south was closed to Manchac, which is about halfway across at a pass between the lakes. I jumped on I-12 to drive to Slidell and then go into the city on I-10. I then got another call from him. He had heard 55 was down because of huge wrecks on both the north and south lanes due to the fog and smoke.
Today, they are still unraveling the mess. There were 158 vehicles involved in accidents that stretched over a mile. Seven are known dead, and the state police are trying to see if others might be missing and lost in the water. I read about one driver approaching the crash, who stopped and then had the presence of mind to jump up on the small median, where he watched his car smashed and saw what might have been his fate.
The crashes were first reported right before 9am. Chaco was probably within 30 minutes of being right in the middle of this crash. We were both thinking the problem was lost time on the trip, not realizing how lucky we both were to have been spared by some mysterious providence.
Math can compute the odds, but no statistics can explain tragedy, when “there but for fortune go I.” I’m keeping the window closed, and won’t open my dirty mouth, but none of us can account for unknown variables in the equation or just plain, dumb luck or take comfort in hearing that “sometimes your time has come.”
Yeah, maybe, but not if there’s anything that all of us should do about it, like for example in a super fog, closing off the twin span, I-55, and the Ponchartrain Causeway before the crash, rather than after the damage is done. Let commuters whine and business scream about lost work time. If, as the forecasters claim, it usually only happens twice a year, they can survive the inconvenience, while everyone gets to walk away and live another day