Life and death on Hwy. 101

People are afraid of being killed by all sorts of things: branches falling from big trees, being attacked by vicious dogs, dying in a plane crash, drowning at sea. These are possible ways to go, of course, but for my money getting killed while driving on Hwy. 101 tops the list.

Two-ton hunks of metal hurtling at 70 miles per hour do a lot of damage when they hit each other. Every time I drive down Hwy. 101 I’m amazed that all the vehicles – cars, pickups, panel trucks, six-wheelers, and busses – manage to get to where they’re going despite any centralized system of control, other than each driver following the rules of the road.

So it was that as my wife and I headed south on 101 to Mill Valley for her birthday celebration, due to a rather ugly-looking accident I was not surprised to see traffic backed up for miles in the opposite direction. We rubberneckers slowed to see what had happened; all I could tell was that it was a big mess.

Once past, speeding along on the crowded highway, I noticed what looked like a foot-long piece of square pipe lying in the roadway ahead of me, but due to traffic in both lanes next to me, I was unable to avoid running over it. I heard it hit the bottom of our car as it was tossed by my tire, but all seemed fine, and upon arriving, we parked in the parking lot of the restaurant. We headed inside for my wife’s 80th birthday party.

Halfway through the party the manager asked if any of us owned a Lexus, because it seemed to be dripping gasoline onto the asphalt. We drive a VW, but our friend Arthur drives a Lexus, and indeed his car, it seemed, had a problem.

The lunch was lovely, the birthday cake delicious, and after three hours, we, our family and friends departed. Back on 101, speeding along nicely despite heavy holiday traffic, I felt the motor lurch. I looked at the gas gauge, which when we left home showed half full, and noticed it was below empty. It was then our car sputtered to a stop, right in a middle lane of the highway. Turns out, it was our car leaking gas at the restaurant, our fuel line punctured by that metal pipe. One of my worst nightmare’s had come true; we were stopped dead on busy 101.

I didn’t panic, although a part of me could have. One does not get out of a stalled car in the middle of busy traffic on Hwy. 101 and try to push it to the side of the road. Emergency blinker activated; I called AAA while simultaneously gesturing through the window to cars behind us to go around. A passer-by angrily yelled, “you can’t park there!” from his car. My fear, of course, was that someone not paying full attention would slam into us from the rear. It felt very precarious.

After an interminable half hour, a highway patrol car pulled up behind us, lights flashing. Meanwhile, the AAA tow truck had arrived, and after we moved into the cabin of his truck, he hoisted our car onto the flatbed of his vehicle, and kindly agreed to tow our car all the way home. Nightmare ended, we were saved, and like Ishmael in Melville’s “Moby Dick,” escaped to tell thee.

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