20 April 2018
To borrow and embroider a well-worn first line from Victorian novels…”It was a dark and stormy night…with sideways rain and the skin crawl of inchoate fear. Oh, there was something out there alright, lurking…a creepy, shadowy specter of nearby calamity about to launch itself upon me…” Well, you get the idea.
It was on such a raw, disappointingly cold April night that I arrived at JFK a couple of years ago. By the time I was whisked by shuttle to the parking lot to collect my car, it was 9:30, moonless and miserable. After a day of travel there was still nearly an hour’s drive home. That wasn’t so bad, except for that wretched wind-blown rain, too few street lights, too few street signs and a touch of self doubt about where I was going.
It would have been easy, had the parking lot put up a sign pointing the way to the Belt Parkway service road. Guessing, I turned right into the darkness and after a few uneasy minutes, saw distant airport lights on the right, just where they were supposed to be. Now I just had to drive to the first underpass, take two lefts to the Belt service road going west…a four-lane road with several side-by-side overhead directional signs to various roads. Take any, but the right one, and I’d be lost until sunup.
The painted lane lines, well-faded to begin with, were all but erased by the rain. The rain overwhelmed the windshield wipers, so the sign letters were cartoonishly wavy. I slowed to get a read. It was late, but in New York, there was traffic…impatient, honking, on edge. I found that I was in the wrong lane…one to the entrance of the Belt toward Brooklyn. I leaned forward for a better look and at the last second eased out of that lane. The next sign I deciphered was to the Van Wyck. I relaxed. It was a familiar road away from the airport and toward home. I got into an entrance lane for it and stopped at a red light. A police car, roof lights flashing, was in the lane on my right.
A hundred times a day, driving, I change lanes and a hundred times I signal, automatically, even with no cars around. But this one time, squinting at signs, dealing with surging rain, trying to find lane lines, I didn’t. There was a honk…from the lit-up police car on my right. He rolled down his window and with a circular motion told me to roll down mine. It must have been important to him, because he was getting pelted by the rain. My window was open on the passenger side. “You know”, he said, “you didn’t signal, when you changed lanes. I just pulled over the car in front of me. Otherwise, it would have been you.” I smiled, said “thanks, won’t let it happen again”, but felt sorry for his need to get soaked, mentioning my infraction. I was, though, grateful for his prior engagement.