On the Road Again


I was an outside salesman for many years and, as a result, spent a lot of time in my car, on the road. In addition, I’ve had some really long commutes in my career, including a six-month stretch when I commuted 160 miles each way to work. Don’t ask.

Despite Howie Carr’s best efforts, the road can be a pretty boring place to spend a lot of time. I’ve always been amused by all the things one sees on the side of the highways and byways in America. You name it, it can be seen sitting somewhere next to some road.

So, as a coping mechanism for the tedium of the road, I created a mental game for myself.

Whenever I see something on the side of the road, something that was tossed out of, flew off of, was on the roof of, was once attached to a car, I create a little story about how it got there. Image

The more creative the narrative, the more miles passes below my wheels and the faster the trip seems.

Last week, I saw a gas can on the side of the road. Clearly someone, sometime, had run out of gas. Was that their can they left behind? Did they buy one and then decide to leave it? In my little narrative, the guy who left the can was a total tool who borrowed a can and didn’t return it to the gas station. I decided he was just a selfish guy who would get his comeuppance one day when he really, really, really needed a favor from a gas station.

By the way, It seems like a lot of folks who run out of gas are tools – that’s why you can’t borrow a can from a gas station. If you’re lucky, they’ll sell you a can you can buy at Walmart for $7.99 for the always inflated price of $20 and then, of course, sell you the gas to fill it.

Because of the road’s very nature, I see a lot of parts and pieces of vehicles in the road and along side it. License plates, complete bumpers, mirrors, and the shreddings of tires form the backbone of the automotive category. I once saw an entire driveshaft complete with differential laying on Route 93, and was surprised when I didn’t see the truck it fell off of down the road. I guess they towed the truck but not the parts.

I’ve seen scores of jacks abandoned in the breakdown lane. How do you leave your jack behind? Did someone literally drive their car off the jack and not realize it or not care? Odds are they’re gonna need it someday and poor Jack will still be waiting, sad and alone, along the side of the highway where they left him.

I’ve seen many purses and wallets – not hard to create a story about those, and of course, there’s always the unanswerable question (unanswerable, because at 75 mph, I’m not stopping to find out) – is there any money inside? I actually found a wallet in a parking lot once. I bought a manilla envelope and stamps and mailed it back to its owner. The only thing I opened it for was to find the owner’s drivers license. To this day, I don’t know if it was empty or chock full of cash.

Summer brings boating and sporting goods to the shoulders and medians  – life vests, coolers or, by the time they’ve hit the pavement at highway speed, more like pieces of coolers. There are also tons of lawn chairs, and collections of brightly colored umbrellas.

I’ve seen what is either a modernistic sculpture or the twisted, pretzel-like remnants of a bike in the breakdown lane. Who’s bike? What’s the story? Was this bike owned by someone who trained all winter long for that one big race, only to lose his ride on the ride to the race?

In the furniture category, I’ve seen a lot of cushions, so I assume there are a lot of sofas scattered across the region that are missing one cushion. I bet if I scoured craigslist, I’d find all those sofas, love seats and chairs that are absent a critical cushion or two. I’ve seen dressers, mattresses and their accompanying box springs, although usually not together so we’ve got two stories that intersect in a mis-matched set – a bedding salesman’s delight.

Clothing and shoes are common sights on the side of the road, one shoe only most of the time. So, I’m left driving along and thinking up a narrative. (You can see where this is going, right?) Driving along and waiting, waiting, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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