Time flies when you are having fun. Especially when you are stuck for four hours on I-17, on your way out of Phoenix. The hands of time move very slowly. One hot afternoon I was forced, with a few thousand other motorists, to finally discover what it means to be trapped liked a rat in a vehicle. Just north of Black Canyon City, a big RV tipped over, blocking the entire northbound lanes of I-17 and causing a backup for miles and miles.
These evil traffic snarls seem to happen every weekend. What is the hope here? You try to cope. One long minute at a time. People turn off their vehicles, start milling around, trying to make sense of what is happening, with a backdrop of laughter, small talk and friendly exchanges. That initial phase is replaced by an almost eerie sense of dismay and helplessness, as people begin to realize that sitting in 102 degrees on an uphill grade in a parked vehicle can be downright dangerous.
It was the elderly lady in front of me who had a birthday cake in her backseat — a birthday surprise for a friend in Prescott — who started unraveling first. She became noticeably distraught and started crying after 45 minutes of no information. Well, she wasn’t alone. Sweltering heat, high humidity and threatening thunderstorms were only part of the misery. Not knowing what was happening was the worse part of the equation.
One disgruntled trucker left his big rig and walked to the site of the accident to talk to the highway patrol officers. He was shaking his head, livid as he marched back to his truck. “What’s wrong?” dozens of motorists asked as he walked by. He would tell the same sad tale again and again. It seems there is an effort to move the RV off the freeway, but it “takes time.”
Does ADOT stand for “Arizona Demons of Traffic”? That was one trucker’s assessment. Yes, in a road closure, there are many victims. There are folks very low on water, many needing to use the bathroom, diabetics out of insulin, babies crying, people who began the road trip sick and who were getting sicker by the minute, and all types of dogs panting and getting anxious. The “tailgate” atmosphere quickly turned to despair and frustration.
Finally, long after the lady’s cake was a melted mess, and all of the babies had cried themselves to sleep, and the dogs stopped barking, we got the blessed message to “start our engines.” Yes, it was true joy to finally feel our tires rolling on the road.
Moral of the story? Dear readers, pack a bag with essentials before you leave home. Bring extra water, snacks, reading material, flashlight, medicine and anything else to make yourself comfortable during a long, treacherous wait. And if you must bring a birthday cake, be sure to have a supply of plates and forks, because eating it with strangers on the road is a lot more fun than watching it melt all over the back seat! Safe travels.