Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Accidental Terrorist

A 2007 ditty re-posted for my friend and fellow 718-er Maria, who is, at this very moment, lost driving in Manhattan

News of The Weird, Your Daily Loser: "If you were driving an 18-wheeler through the Lincoln Tunnel, and it was 6 inches too high so that on first contact the roof of your trailer started ripping and peeling off and dragging on your speed, how long would it take you to realize something was wrong?

Answer, by Gilberto Cantu (4-yr driver with a ‘spotless safety record’): maybe not until he got home. That is, he ignored many sound and flash warnings before the Tunnel, and inside the Tunnel, and seemed not to understand why he was stopped a mile and a half later when his nearly topless load emerged in New York City."

The above anecdote makes me feel better about my own, ah, mishap entering the Lincoln Tunnel and New York again after three days on the road in my 10-foot U-haul truck, which carried me, my cat Al and all of my belongings on a trip that was pretty relaxing, aside from the sobbing I did in the dark rain outside Atlanta my first night gone from New Orleans, the only place I’d planned to live forever. My departure, though, was for good and for real. Now it was back to wanting to live everywhere and nowhere: the nomad’s lot.

When I was telling her my travel plans, my mother kept mentioning that my truck might be too tall to fit under some overpasses, something I brushed off at the time as parental neurosis, but which, courtesy of road burn, actually caused me to duck inside said truck when I went under a series of these overpasses in New Jersey.

I didn't mean to make that wrong turn after the Lincoln Tunnel when I was trying to get on the Long Island Expressway; damn construction, damn lack of signs to go with the crooked cone lines. I had never--by very conscious choice--driven in Manhattan until that day, when I found myself on 34th across from Penn Station at 5 p.m., Tuesday in what suddenly struck me as a real monstrosity of a vehicle.

I also didn't mean to get back on the expressway going the wrong way--or to blow that NYPD security checkpoint, also unlabeled. I did stop--several times--at the sight of a handful of cops in the vicinity, but this seemed to make them angry; they kept waving me, I thought, forward, gesturing toward the overpass up the road from ten feet away. How else would one interrupt an arm and hand waving forward?--aka "go" in any other context. And how long was I supposed to sit there at the side of the jacked up road waiting for them to approach, when my being there appeared to infuriate them?

They were waiting for me on the other side of the unmarked construction zone when I again emerged unscathed from an overpass, "they" being two female cops who instantly began screaming at me, making me wonder if the ol’ truck was leaking gas or flames or blood. When I had an opening, I pulled over as directed by much clearer side-motioning, at which point I was further berated because I had "almost hit" the "poor guy" behind me.

Nope. But if I had met their panic with panic and gone careening over in my boxy jalopy, I would have. I thought law and order necessitated calm? Or, as I asked my not-so-welcoming welcome wagon, "Why would you scream at me to pull over immediately in this exact spot if I was in such close proximity to hitting another driver?” If they're this afraid of...what? me...a truck? post-9/11, well, that begs the question of who and what doesn't instill such fear.

As for yours truly, it seems I'd been the subject of a walkie talkie feed with their cohorts on the other side of the dreaded overpass and thus deemed dangerous in advance--what a relief for them that I wouldn't be able to get by without another [completely unwitting] fight.

A few minutes later, I'm opening the back of my highly suspect vehicle in the wake of my highly suspect behavior. One of the two female officers, bearing a striking resemblance to Deputy Raineesha Williams on "Reno 911!," is offering helpful and loud suggestions on how to unlock the padlock I have purchased, locked and unlocked for three days running.

"Do you have a grill?" she demands.

The road burn has won out. I visualize iron bars, kind of like the ones guarding homes in crime-compromised areas.

"A what?"

"A gas grill!"

"I'm gonna say...no."

A few minutes later, when I'm going the wrong way courtesy of my second set of erroneous directions from a uniformed official, I know I may have to spend the night--and perhaps the rest of my life--in New Jersey because there's no way I'm going through that again.

I wing onto Northern Blvd., away from any interstate or bridge, knowing this should take me into and--eventually--through Queens to Long Island. I stop at a gas station to double-check my theory. True to form, the gas station cashier knows nothing of local geography, including street names. A man on line offers his help, going so far as to wait for me to pump my gas so I can follow him to a purported shortcut back to the LIE, one that bypasses checkpoints, officers, bridges.

He gives me detailed descriptions of the two blocks I'll travel once he's turned off toward his own home and for the first time back I relax, relieved, remembering what great, thorough directions his caliber of New Yorkers give. He tells me I'll have to pass a graveyard, then get on the highway.

"No worries; I'm used to graveyards."

I follow him the four blocks, he turns, gesturing, giving me the go-ahead, and I travel under the overpass, not ducking this time, past the large police garage on the left and then the elevated graveyard on the right, with its long lawns, jutting tombstones, below-ground tombs, majestic

in its own right.

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