Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A moment of Zen

On Friday, a friend took a bunch of guys to the NHL game between the New Jersey Devils and the Colorado Avalanche (thanks, Steve!). It was a great game, and we had pretty decent seats in the corner where most of the goals were scored. Joe Sakik got creamed right in front of us, which was pretty cool even though I was rooting against New Jersey. One highlight of my experience was my picture up on the big screen (behind some dancing chicks) wearing my new Avs hat. The game went past overtime into a shootout, and normally Brodeur would dominate. But, 6 rounds in, there were no goals. Finally, Antti Laaksonen, who has had 7 goals in 31 games now, scored. Jamie Langenbrunner didn't and it was over. What a great way to end a game, as opposed to a tie.

But that's not the Zen part. The travel was a little on the adventuresome side. Three of us came from the Lehigh Valley. Most of the snow was cleared, with the exception of a few icy drifts here and there. One of these was at the Phillipsburg exit, where a car had spun around backwards into the shoulder across the onramp.

We met Steve's friend (who I'll call Chris) off Exit 15 of I-78, who took the reins from there. Chris is what you call a Jersey driver. He also seems to have this fear of I-78. So, we took 22 to 287 down to Edison, got on the NJ Turnpike, and drove north to East Rutherford. The whole way down 22, he was on the ass of the car in front of us. To make matters worse, that road is a divided highway that allows U-turns here and there, causing patches of snow and ice every mile where the cars would pull out .

It was here that I accepted my fate and achieved an unnatural calmness. There was nothing I could do but relax (letting the seat belt take up its slack) and wait for the inevitable. The panic that had started in my head subsided and flowed out through my feet. Even seeing another Jersey driver almost pull out in front of us at one of those ice patches didn't jar me out of my waking meditation. It was quite an experience.

Chris's great navigation skills didn't restrict themselves to the drive there. On the way back, we started by missing the exit off NJ 3 W to the turnpike. This after Steve and I both pointed at the sign and said something to him. "Was that it?" "Yes." Oh, well, no harm done. There was a turnaround for just such situations and down the Turnpike we drove.

We got off at Exit 14, which leads to, I expected, I-78 W. Even now, at 10pm or so, Chris was still somehow afraid of the traffic on the interstate and wanted to take 22. This interchange, however, has lanes of traffic that intertwine like twigs in a bird's nest. Take a look for yourself. Somehow we ended up on 21 North instead of 22 West. This led to a nice drive through downtown Newark, which isn't really as bad as you might expect, as long as you stay on the highway. There was only one street person wandering around in an intersection looking for money (or a car?). Since my previous backseat navigational advice had been rebuffed, I resorted to snide comments like, "I've never been through downtown Newark before," and when we arrived at NJ 3 West again, "Weren't we just on this road a half hour ago?" Steve started looking for a map, Chris was going to call someone, and the other guy and I were just sitting in the back wondering if we'd ever get home. I mentioned that in the worst case, 3 would hit 287, which we could take back to I-78 (if we dared) to get home. (This apparently isn't true. We would have hit US-46, go West, and get on I-80 to get to I-287.) So we found the Garden State Parkway, and took that South to I-78, only 4 miles from where we had diverted. At this point, Chris just took I-78, and we made our way back to Steve's car.

The moral of the story is, if you don't know somebody and they're from New Jersey, don't trust their directions and don't trust their driving. If you do have to ride with them, take some advice from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Don't Panic."

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