I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction, or non-fiction, as is this piece. Today’s letter is x for Exultation.
Inches to Spare
I have driven the eleven miles between Laytonville and Bell Springs Road for more than thirty-two years now, though never as regularly as when I was teaching in the school district. During that period I made the run six days a week, and sometimes seven. Luckily, I figured out early on that there was little incentive to push the speed limit past the posted 55MPH. Even if I exceeded that speed for the whole eleven miles, I could not shave off enough time to make it worth while; the cost of a ticket from the California Highway Patrol kept me from trying.
One of the most memorable commutes took place one rainy Friday night, in the dead of winter, when my entire family was returning from school, ready for a well-deserved weekend break. It was windy, the rain beat down and it was pitch-black outside. Driving was hazardous at best-treacherous at worst. I made my way up the 101, at a slightly reduced speed, knowing that I would be on Bell Springs Road in twelve or thirteen minutes.
Dead center in the commute is the only straightaway that exists in the entire eleven-mile route. The straightaway is two miles at the most, and then the highway reopens for a brief stint to allow passing. We had just entered that straight stretch, when from out of nowhere, a vehicle approached from behind and glommed onto the rear of my trusty Trooper. Almost instantly, the driver of this vehicle clicked on his high-beams, obviously frustrated at my rate of speed.
It being Friday night, there was a steady flow of traffic coming from the north, so it seemed impossible that any passing could be done. If he were familiar at all with the highway, the driver of the vehicle behind me would know that a passing lane was available less than two miles ahead, a tad more than two minutes, maybe 135 seconds. Did that make any difference? Not on your life.
He stuck to the rear of my vehicle so closely, that I was afraid of imminent contact. I tried to keep the tension from overflowing into the Trooper, but with the inside of our car being so brightly illuminated, everyone knew there was a maniac right behind us. All I was hoping for was a quick completion of the two minutes of driving.
Suddenly, the driver behind us, evidently at the end of his slender rope, pulled out into the other lane, and floored his V-8 engine, passing us with his horn blaring, despite the fact that there was oncoming traffic looming precipitously in front of us. Terrified, I applied the brakes, as gently as possible to be effective, without sending us into a spin, and held my breath.
The driver pulled even and quickly passed, darting back in front of me with inches to spare. I was scared, angry and relieved all at once, astounded that anyone would take such a dramatic step, endangering himself and all others traveling on the highway. Seconds after he passed, we got to the passing lane, where I glided over into the slow lane and tried to collect my fragmented thoughts.
Imagine our surprise when those brilliant flashing red and blue lights fired up, and a highway patrol car pulled out from the side of the road, just at the start of the passing lane. There was no need to stop and express outrage at the actions of the other driver. The CHP officer had been clearly able to see the entire episode. We passed without any outward signs of triumph, but inside we were singing a merry melody.
Justice sometimes takes her jolly good time; in this case there was instant retribution, and we drove on our way, chortling with exultation.