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Jewish World ReviewMarch 3, 2000/ 26 Adar 1, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports



Car crash helps bridge our divide --
I-95 NORTH ---- Driving along I-95 these days is an adventure to warm the undertaker's heart. Or the trooper's, whoever gets you first.

I felt like a NASCAR driver myself this past Saturday as I tried to go with the flow between Florida and South Carolina. It's a delicate act, keeping your speed just high enough not to be trampled by the herd, but slow enough not to register on the radar.

At such speeds, scenery doesn't mean much. The only thing that matters is front and rear. And wakefulness. Blink, baby, and you're dust.

On this day, someone blinked. Just as I was crossing the bridge over Georgia's Satilla River, we came to a halt. Two lanes of hurtling automobiles came to a sudden standstill, straddled across a magnificent savannah and water sparkling with sun.

It is jarring to be yanked suddenly from the intense concentration of high-speed travel to the dream-state of nuthin' to do, no place to go. In real time, we were forced to note that the occupants of all those other cars, faceless irritants only moments before, were human beings. And we were all more or less alike: bleary-eyed, harried and forced by circumstance to acknowledge one another.

I looked to my right and made eye contact with the driver next to me. Had I noticed her before? No. She was just someone more or less in my way. Now, she had a face and a smile.

It took about two minutes for everyone to realize we weren't going anywhere for a while, so we did what sensible people do. We got out of our cars and dealt with the only true thing at that moment: We were stuck on a bridge on a magnificent day, sun-filled and breezy, with a spectacular view, and someone not too far up the road was having a very bad day.

As ambulances and wreckers charged past on the adjacent, southbound bridge, I chatted with the Pennsylvania couple in front of me. Had I noticed them before? Nah. Until I got out from behind the wheel of my car, they were just another fender in front of me. Now they were grandparents headed home after a month of visiting family in Florida.

"Did I tell you about my 15-year-old granddaughter?" the man asked me.

Before we left that bridge, I knew a lot about his grandchildren. He was 75, married to the same woman for 41 years. You don't see that much any more, he said.

No you don't. And you don't often see a pile-up like this one -- 10 vehicles, including two that were pulling other vehicles -- crunched one on top of the other. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured.

We stayed on the bridge for about an hour. During that time, we erstwhile road warriors became congenial comrades in a rather pleasant interruption. Strangers shared food, drinks, stories, laughs. There was an almost giddy esprit and a sense of communal satisfaction that no one had been hurt, as though we had something to do with it.

When it was time to go, we shook hands and wished each other safe passage. Back in our cars, we inched past the wreckage, the troopers and survivors, gaining speed gradually as we refocused on the road ahead. Soon we were out of one another's sights, grinding our gears forward and away from that brief, remarkable moment when time stopped.

I couldn't help thinking as that magnificent view receded in my rear view mirror, life is like that: Blink and you're dust. That's why it's important to stop occasionally and enjoy the view.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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