Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Monday, September 01, 2008


Later we were to realize that it had all started when TPB and Dear Relation (DR) had monkeyed with the GPS. Stuck in a logjam for the second time in an hour on a freeway in interior Pennsylvania, I finally figured out that they'd twiddled the thing into 'Pedestrian' mode, which is why it was doing strange things like telling us to "take a sharp turn right" onto an entry ramp, and that it was "129 miles, 66 hours" to the next intersection.

But all that was to happen later, much of an eventful hour later. Before that, too, we'd been stuck for an hour in the logjam, slowing to a halt near a sign that said "Exit 120, Food, 1 mile". That hour had slowly ticked away, the rainfall, the last remnant of Tropical Storm Fay, had eased to merely heavy, but the advertised exit had not been reached. We were truly stuck.

TPB clambered over into the vacant passenger seat, her nap done and dusted. She said she wanted to go to the restroom. I too needed a break, from all the high speed driving past tractor-trailers sloshing colossal quantities of water every which way. We decided we'd pull off at the alleged Exit 120, if ever this traffic accelerated past 5 mph.

Of course, it happened just as we crawled up to the exit ramp. The jam cleared. A fire truck was reversing across the left lane, blinkers on, and an emergency worker was waving us on past, through to the empty stretch of freeway. Next exit 9 miles, it said.

I asked TPB -- you want to go to this exit, which may well be choked with the plenty of other freeway riders who've had the same idea as us, or should we try for the next one? Our car was speeding up; we had to decide. "Okay, let's go to the next one," she said, just as I pulled right onto the ramp.

There were four cars ahead of us at the light at the end of the ramp. A signboard said, "McDonald's, Arby's, Popeye's, Big Boy Burger, turn left". Another said, "Su's Restaurant, turn right".

We decided to turn right.

The first building we saw was an auto repair shop.

There was no second building.

Within ten seconds of the light we were in forest territory. A narrow two lane road twisted, turned, and swooped through a thick green mountain. All around, everything was lush shades of green. Of Su's restaurant there was no sign, naturally, but apart from the occasional car coming from the other side, there was nothing else either.

We drove for a few minutes not knowing what to think, hoping we'd come upon some sign of civilization. The mountain road was descending; round one bend we came upon a river. This was no ordinary mountain stream. The water lay silent, nearly invisible, cloaked under a cloud of fog that rose from it, a spooky cloud that sat well over a meter thick. TPB drew her breath in. We passed a sign that said "Caution, Water Temperatures May be Significantly Higher Than Expected". I tightened my lips and focused on the narrowing road. What was this place?

Suddenly, up ahead, we saw the most ghostly sight. Three concrete towers, fogged from view, rising up from the steaming water, looming menacingly over us. My first reaction was one of shock, then I relaxed a little. This must be some sort of industrial plant, releasing waste products or simply heat into the environment. The ethereality of the situation dissipated somewhat; now at least we could make a little sense of the situation.

There had to be a way out of there. We couldn't turn our monster SUV around on that narrow mountain road. We needed an opening, or a detour of some sort. We looked at the errant GPS again. Take the next sharp right, it said. A sharp right presented itself almost at once. So we took it.

Again, mistake.

This road was even narrower. At least till then we'd been on a proper mountain road. Now we were straddling a single lane kuccha track, overgrown with vegetation, two deep water-filled ruts running along either side of a central grassy embankment. Thankfully, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. But that was all that could be said in our favor. There was nowhere to go but follow this overgrown lane.

The dirt track plunged into a hairpin bend. With a gasp, we found ourselves right by the river. The track, if possible, was even narrower here -- parts of it had broken off and tumbled into the water. I had no way of telling how firm the ground underfoot might be -- all I knew was that the car I was navigating was a heck of a heavy beast. We were almost at a standstill. Obviously this wasn't the way back to the freeway. Thoughts were chasing each other round our heads. I was worrying about tumbling into the river, with its "Significantly Higher Than Expected" temperature and possible effluent. Should we keep the windows down or up? I was also worrying about rednecks with guns. TPB told me later she was afraid there might be bears around. The place was that desolate.

Of course, we didn't talk very much right then. We were just willing ourselves back to civilization.

An opportunity presented itself to our left -- a small clearing in the trees. Notwithstanding TPB's weak protest, I swung a sharp left into it. Damn they make these SUVs agile. two tweaks and we were back on the dirt track, heading gingerly the opposite way. The hairpin bend had to be negotiated again. It really was quite steep, but with the roar of a wounded lion our Chevrolet scrambled upwards and made it. If we'd slipped then, I remember thinking, we really would have been done for. But we weren't. We found our mountain road again, and set off back the way we'd come. Somehow we managed to make a wrong turn anyway, and found ourselves 2 miles further back in the same logjam that we thought we'd escaped.

That was when we realized that the GPS was on Pedestrian mode.

And that was when I finally had the opportunity to regret not having had my camera at hand.


Blogger km said...

Ha, bold choice, starting a post with "Later we were to realize". It's like we missed the first act of the play :)

My first reaction was one of shock, then I relaxed a little. This must be some sort of industrial plant, releasing waste products

An industrial plant spraying waste products on your SUV does not worry you? What if it was a nitric acid manufacturer?

9/02/2008 9:21 AM  
Blogger Space Bar said...

Yikes. Why is everything I've read about short trips in the last two days bristling with disasters? I want to stay holed up in my room and go nowhere!

9/02/2008 10:53 AM  
Blogger ??! said...

For a while there, I thought you were going to talk about you just managed to escape from some masked chainsaw-wielding maniac who burst out of the lake and started chasing you down.

That would have been so cool. Seeing as you survived and all. Otherwise, bad bad.

9/03/2008 12:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite the edge of the seat gripper. Kind of reminds me of James Kim, who managed to get hopelessly and tragically lost in seemingly civilized Oregon. These American states are quite large, no?


9/04/2008 9:59 AM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

The Khoo Prof drives a monster SUV? A Chevy, at that?
Dude, please tell us it was rented. Or we might just think you're McCain in disguise.

Neat post, though. I agree with ??! - it read like the build-up to First Blood Revisited


9/04/2008 5:51 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

it did worry me, as i say later. the point is at least it wasn't supernatural!

because no news is good news?

yeah i know. i had the same feeling once when my mother was telling me about how she'd once been driving and had a maniac sort of chasing her and had somehow found herself on a dead end road.

ha, you resurface!
not large enough for me and the bozos currently in st paul, frankly.

how you are knowing that i once had a singaporean student whose surname was khoo?
and yes, it was rented. a large amount of stuff needed transporting.

9/04/2008 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Lekhni said...

This sounds scary and familiar. I've just had my share of driving through pitch-dark wastelands (North Dakota, no less) in the middle of the night in search of gas stations that turned out to be nowhere near the freeway.

9/09/2008 8:44 AM  

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