Sweating over the steering wheel of life


December 13, 1996


She picked the worst day possible to come to visit, nearly a repeat of last year when we wandered a cold, wet New York City in an effort to celebrate Christmas.

She came last June with better success.

But here I am again, sitting on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap, waiting for mother and child to arrive, knowing they may not arrive for hours.

Despite more than a decade of road experience, Louise has not become a more confident driver a classic case of the stereotypical Pennsylvania panic-stricken driver, whose sweaty palms grip the steering wheel at the least unexpected obstacle, driving the slow lane at three quarters the recommended speed so that other drivers have to bolt around them. Her kind litter the whole highway up to the turn off I usually take when I go to see them.

Tonight, however, Louise has every reason for fear. I sweated more than a little coming up from the Jersey side, my wheels unable to get secure traction on the wet asphalt while other, reckless drivers speed around me stirring up a mist my windshield wipers struggle to keep clear.

The drive was unbearably brutal with high beams and brake lights providing the only salvation.

I could see little else even before sunset, and the gray day turned into black night.

While I did not crawl along the highway, I did not plunge ahead the way many other fools did, and even at that point when traffic thinned, I clutched the steering wheel, too.

Although the radio weatherman claimed the rain would cease by the fallowing day, I did not relish the drive back to Jersey City, each mile growing more congested rather than less, people plunging deeper into the madness in their hurry to get home.

I did not contribute any of this ill luck to the calendar date, thinking most Fridays dated with 13, tended to bring me luck. But I suspected that my getting my daughter back to Jersey City would use most of this up.

And yet, all that said, I found myself engrossed with the same wondrous feelings I had as a kid, when with blanket and cup of coffee I sat on a chair on my front porch and watched the rain, and knew I was safe from it, and dry, teasing myself with its chill, while sipping the coffee to bring warmth up inside of me. Then as now I felt protected, isolated from the elements, listening to the patter of the rain, looking at its drops as they hit beyond me.

At times like these, I seemed immune to the dangers of life, beyond them.

I know this is an illusion. But at times, especially over this last year, I have felt under attack as if I had found myself born into an inappropriate time, an era where my race, my county, my family, friends, deteriorated, when all the hope and faith of the last century dissipated like luck, used up in getting us through two hot wars and one deeply frigid war, and now, without morality or manners, we greet a new century, vulnerable and scared.

Maybe Im just clutching at the steering wheel of life too hard, sweating over nothing.

But I am afraid.

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