A couple of afternoons ago I realized I had taken a serpentine detour just to follow a white van in front of me. Whatever instinct controls my brain caused me to reach up and turn off the radio, too, as if my interest would be dissipated by music. In fascination, I observed the van precariously careening around corners, the driver undoubtedly unaware how precipitously close he was to losing most of his cargo. The van was well-used; even the logo of its previous owner was barely perceptible along its flanks.
In the rear of the van were several huge rolls of carpet and padding. One solitary and tired bungee cord stretched across the rusty hinges about halfway up the doors. As the weight inside shifted, the carpet would push against the doors, each one slightly bulging outward, almost palpitating. I’m not sure whether the driver slept at a Holiday Inn Express the night before or not, but how anyone could believe that a single bungee cord would be a safe method to secure all the carpet behind it was a question for the ages. (Picture your Uncle after Thanksgiving dinner, belly stretched across the rim of his pants, an explosion just waiting for one button to yield and explode loose.)
I tend to take strange paths both to and from work, most of the time without any observable motive. If the CIA or FBI is surveilling me, I’m sure that several meetings have contained the words, “What in the devil is he DOING? Does he know he’s being followed?” If such is the case, I hope there’s also an angry bald man, smoking and shouting, ignoring the “No Smoking” signs literally above his head, demanding that his minions do a better job at guessing what craziness I might try next on the roadways.
If you’ve ever gotten angry at a driver in front of you for failing to signal, it’s probably me. Using the blinker only gives the person behind you a clear sign of what you’re doing. If you’re being followed, this is the sort of normal behavior that will only lead to further trouble. Likewise, acquired paranoia demands that all drivers are considered to be members of the alphabet agencies and that they are watching you specifically. It’s my duty at times to pretend I’m fleeing from some unseen force. (Other than those guys handing out pamphlets at the airport, I mean.)
I had turned off Zion Road without realizing it, just to stay close to the van. Across from the Botanical Gardens, the carpet rolls had protruded so far from the rear of the van that I laughed when the driver accelerated and the rolls miraculously avoided spilling out. Had they fallen, Crossover Road would have been carpeted for a brief moment in history.
As I followed, I realized that perhaps my sense of adventure was getting the better of me. I’m not sure how quickly my reaction time would have jumped up to meet the challenge had the carpet been flung out the back of the van and directly in front of me as I watched. It seemed to be a risk I was willing to accept because the image of me running over the carpet and careening into the edge of the urban wilderness at the edge of the road made me laugh. My wife will tell you that when I’m driving by myself I tend to be much less likely use the thing that allegedly slows my vehicle if a surprise befalls me. I’ve caused more than a few people to suddenly turn white-headed or to crack their knuckles in abject terror as they gripped the steering wheel too tightly. To all those people: You’re welcome.
The van finally turned off without spilling the rolls of carpet. I could feel the disappointment wash over me. It felt like I had been robbed of some essential experience. For a brief moment, I thought about tailing the driver and to wait for him outside the convenience store. There’s no way he made it to wherever he was going without losing his cargo. He, too, undoubtedly has an angry, smoking, bald man to berate him in case of an accident.
I had even envisioned what I would tell the reporting officer, as he pulled on his 80s-style mustache, surveying the hundreds of square feet of carpet flung all over the roadway: “It was a carpet bombing!”