I came out of Indiana doing 75 in a driving rain. It was rush hour when I entered the abyss.
When the old-timers gather to tell their driving stories, as old-timers will, they speak in hushed tones of this section of US Rte 80 from east of Gary, Indiana to west of Chicago, Illinois. They remember, and shudder at the memories.
Traffic goes from a death-defying 90 MPH to a screaming-brakes, dead stop in a matter of seconds. There are more semi tractors and trailers per square foot here than anywhere else on earth, I’ll wager. Is it mere fancy that they appear 10 feet taller than elsewhere?
Modern science is unable to make asphalt stick in this dead zone, so some part is always under construction. About mid-March, the truck drivers who scatter blinding sprays of snow-killing salt do a tag-team routine with the construction-cone-droppers. A slap of hands and the new season is underway.
I could see an electronic message board flashing overhead, just at the state line. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has placed these across major highways to convey crucial, time-sensitive information. Of course, it isn’t a good idea to take one’s eyes off the road, even for a few seconds. But if there is a major accident up ahead, or a bridge is out, this could save lives.
As I came up to the sign I had semis on both sides and another one riding my tail. I needed to get over to the right lane quickly so I didn’t miss the cash toll lane. Illinois has it rigged so you have to ride the toll road for approximately 50 feet to get into the state. If you don’t pay the 60 cents extortion, they photograph your license plate as you whiz by and mail you a much heftier bill, along with a traffic ticket.
I risked a fraction of a second’s glance at the sign overhead. “Don’t…” was all I could get. Don’t what? Don’t take this road? Don’t exit ahead?
A blasting windshield defogger and the “whup, whup” of wipers on high did little to improve the steamroom visibility in my car. Being in a truck canyon added to the gloom.
Another glance and I got another word; “Don’t be…” Don’t be afraid? Don’t believe everything you read??
For the sweet love of Jesus, what was IDOT trying to tell me???
I risked one last, longer glance at the sign before I was under it, narrowly avoiding the semi bearing down on me. Navigating into the right lane with a squeal of tires, the message I had risked my life to read burned itself on the back of my retinas:
Don’t Be A Distracted Driver.