I took my car, which I’ve been responsible for maintaining for 8 years, on a nine hour road trip in December. Glutton for punishment? Nah, I just needed material for more columns.
As much money as I put into that car in 2007, it has enough additions to qualify as brand new. New battery, alternator, tires, windshield wipers, oil filter, starter, air freshener. No, I did not say “what could possibly go wrong?” I’m not that dumb. But I confess to some degree of confidence.
It went well until I turned onto Missouri Route 6, and after a dozen miles started getting a feeling that something was horribly wrong.
You see, I was on Route 6; I was supposed to be on Highway 6. Apparently they mean something entirely different in the Show Me state. Nobody showed me.
That took me about 20 miles out of my way, the irony being that I was 20 miles out when the yellow light began flashing “service engine soon” on my dashboard. Maybe I should start making plans to stay down there? The climate was warmer, after all. I could e-mail my columns to Albion. They had jobs in Missouri; food; chocolate.
Finally I opened the hood, and checked to see if the engine was still there. It was. Delving deeper, I made sure it had liquid stuff in the liquid stuff containers. It did. My conclusion was that either a sensor was giving me a false reading, or something else was wrong. Isn’t it cool, the way I can narrow down the problem areas?
We decided to make a run for Indiana. The car seemed to be running fine, all four tires were still on, and nothing was on fire. Using my expertise, I decided the engine would run until it didn’t, and that we’d be all right as long as we didn’t run into any bad weather. I didn’t know it at the time, but high wind advisories were even then being issued for the entire distance of our route.
It started snowing about halfway through Illinois.
I wanted to get onto Interstate 69 before darkness fell. I-69 I’m familiar with; I-465 is an endless circle around Indianapolis, and has been known to swallow cars into infinity. So I gave maps to both my passengers and assigned them to be navigators – pretty simple, as long as I started them on the correct line in the directions. Which I did not.
We ended up in downtown Indianapolis, which was actually kind of quiet; all the traffic was lost on I-465. We were only mugged once, and after I told the guy my story he gave me my wallet back and pointed me toward the highway. Apparently he was afraid I’d lower property values if I stuck around.
Did I mention it was windy, and wet? As we headed east over an overpass – or maybe south, or southeast – the pickup truck in front of us swerved toward what would have been the off ramp, had there been an off ramp there. Sadly, there was just a concrete wall. This left me trying to brake, swerve, and check all the mirrors all at the same time, to make sure I didn’t become part of a crash – present or future. Luckily, the truck didn’t rebound into my path, although one of its tires did.
The tire crossed our bow and took off to the north, and later I realized it was the only thing on the bypass that actually knew where to go.
We stopped to report the accident, and to remove the seat coverings that we’d sucked up with our butt cheeks. Now, I take 911 calls for a living, and it’s frustrating when people report an emergency, but have no idea where they are. Talk about the shoe being on the other foot – I’d been on the verge of dialing 911 to complain of being lost, and here I was telling the dispatcher that my location was “central Indiana, on a bridge with cars.”
Well, that narrowed it right down.
The only thing hurt was the pride of the guy whose pickup was now a three wheeler. We went on, trying to find exit 98a-H, which by way of 47A would lead us to 465E, exit 112b, and I69. Every time we went through the directions I wanted to yell “bingo!”
I knew we were in trouble when I saw flashing red and blue lights ahead. “Another accident,” I told my passengers. “Look – another red pickup!”
“It’s the same one, Dad,” my daughter informed me. “We’re going to die here. 465 is the Indiana equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. We may be the only normal humans who have actually seen Indianapolis and made it out this far.”
“But the Indiana State Legislature meets – oh. Normal humans. Good point.”
Still, eventually we emerged onto I69, northbound. This section of road I was familiar with, and it would be smooth sailing all the way to Fort Wayne.
Twenty miles further on, we saw dozens upon dozens of brake lights ahead, like a huge, snaking line of red Christmas decorations. We came to a stop. A dead stop, on an interstate highway. That’s never good. The only movement was the way the car would lurch sideways a few inches whenever the wind hit.
Eventually, familiar golden arches lured us in with the promise of beverages and bathrooms. By the time we got back, traffic was running fine again and we forged ahead, making a good fifty miles before the interstate came to a complete frigging dead stop again. At least we had full cups and empty bladders.
The story has a happy ending, of course; we made it home, and although the check engine light is still on, nothing fell from the car except a few rust flakes. The big mystery to me – other than whether Indianapolis really exists in this dimension – is the parking lot that was Interstate 69. We never saw a sign of a crash: no wreckage, no wrecker, not a single police officer working on his coffee.
Our only conclusion is that the entire crash site got sucked into the Indianapolis Triangle. Heaven help those people, trapped there with hordes of state legislators.