John Colson: Vacation — mostly joyous, sometime scary
Hit & Run
The past two weeks, which I spent visiting friends and relatives in the Midwest, were both a monumentally welcome road trip as well as an intensive reminder that our benighted country is mired in a quagmire of unease that bounces from hateful, sometimes incendiary violence and animosity to deep-seated fears about the rampaging effects of climate change.
It was a little weird, in other words.
I loved visiting the region where I was raised, hanging out with my brother, cousins and friends in the places where I spent much of my youth. That joy was tempered, though, by the fact that my generally liberal and progressive childhood hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, is unhappily surrounded by what can only be described as a northern precinct of Trump country.
Since I do not hang out with Trumpists as a general rule, I was not subjected to demands that I subscribe to the Big Lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from our former commander in chief, Donald J. Trump — though I consumed enough news to know that lie is still being told.
Anyway, I spent a lot of time on the highways and byways of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, and it was there that I witnessed the kind of rage that seems to have deepened and broadened in part thanks to the influence of that same former chief executive.
As we drove northward on Interstate 90 one day, for example, a pickup truck the size of a tank came zooming up behind us on a crowded highway, hanging there a couple of feet behind my rear bumper (at 65 mph) as the driver seemed hell-bent on either pushing me out of his way or at least intimidating me into making a move to the other lane (impossible due to the presence of other vehicles).
When I tapped my brake pedal to get this gorilla to back off in his threatening behavior until I could actually switch lanes, I apparently ignited some part of his lizard brain and I watched, amazed, as he forced his way around me (I wagged a finger at him to signal my displeasure), pulled sharply in front of me (again inches from my car), and slammed on his brakes, seemingly trying to force an accident.
I had expected this sort of move, and had slowed down immediately, so his attempt at murder-by-collision failed, and he finally pulled forward to challenge his next victim with the tail-gating strategy that seemed to be his chosen driving style.
For some reason, it is on the highways that this kind of rage gets some of its fullest expression. Is this an extension of Detroit’s and Madison Avenue’s decades-long insistence that it is only in our cars that we can truly be our natural (meaning insensitive and intolerant) selves?
I was intrigued to read news stories during our pandemic-inspired, year-long experiment in extreme social distancing, that America’s roadways suddenly seemed to empty of cars, which gave free rein to the Mad Max tendencies of some drivers.
I recall reading that, even though traffic citations dropped off during the pandemic, the average speed of vehicles that were on the roads went off the charts.
So, now that the highways are crowded and clogged again, perhaps these fast-and-furious wannabes simply cannot stand it that their need for speed is meeting with interference.
This was not the only time I encountered this kind of assaultive behavior on the roads during our trip, but it was the worst in terms of potential disaster.
The other dismaying encounter of our trip involved the weather, which also is growing worse due to climate change even as our national rage deepens and reddens. Not sure if the two phenomena are related, but they could be.
In Madison, when I was a kid, the summertime temperatures that I remember would occasionally get into the 80s or low 90s, but currently the number of days where the mercury hits or exceeds 100 (this is all in Fahrenheit, you should know) are piling up in frequency and severity.
Air conditioners, relatively rare during my youth, are now as critical a piece of home-equipment in Madison as they are in Phoenix, and floods have become the latest example of climate-change offspring.
As for Madison’s five lakes, which have long suffered from the unending flow of nitrate-laden fertilizers from surrounding farms, and the resultant bloom of scum, algae and weeds, are now so choked with weeds that you run the risk of being entangled and dragged down to a watery doom every time you take a swim.
On the way home, after exiting Eisenhower Tunnel, we were met with a downpour that was biblical in its intensity, sometimes blinding us for many seconds thanks to a sudden splashing from a neighboring vehicle zooming through pooled water in the highway ruts. And we were forced to spend a night in Vail after being turned back from Glenwood Canyon due to floods caused by that same storm over the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar.
So our vacation was, in the main, a blessing and a joy, but as noted, it had a bit of the dark side to it, thankfully in small and easily forgotten doses.
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