I am sitting in a Denny’s just off of Interstate 40 in Grants, New Mexico. The storm outside is not the kind that lowers visibility to an uncomfortable level, nor one that will bury the cars in the hotel parking lot during the night. Instead, the relatively warm day (mid 40s F) heated the road just enough to melt the snow from the previous flurry before the surface froze again, creating a perfect sheet of ice just beneath the thin layer of white. The transition from dry pavement to ice was rapid, in less than a half mile. It was catching everyone off-guard.
My ’03 AWD Subaru burdened with camping, climbing, and biking gear, gifts for my family, and ample food for a few days was relatively stable, tracking forward without issue. But when I passed an SUV in the ditch facing the wrong direction, and another spun-out just in front of me moments later, facing backward in the median, I decided the next exit was the safest bet. I passed two more recently stranded vehicles and a state trooper before I left the interstate in the last mile.
I contemplated stopping to help, but determined that my vehicle on the side of what was quickly becoming a single lane could complicate the rapidly building danger zone. Unfortunately, many of those vehicles would need assistance from a team of horses or a decently sized tow truck with studs or chains to be removed from their unfortunate position.
The man now seated across from me also came down I-25 and over on I-40, in an SUV. He too felt the call of Denny’s late night menu. My salad and omelet consumed, I am enjoying watching the variety of travelers stagger in, take a seat, and order. Some are regulars, it seems, the menu not required. Others may be experiencing Denny’s for the first time. It’s an interesting dance, the wait staff asking the same questions, the answer slightly different from each patron.
Walk in. Sit down. Talk about the weather. Sit back. Relax. The waitress comes to the table every few minutes, asking again “You still do’n ok?” which sounds like “Dooenok?” If English were not my first language, I would not understand and just nod to be polite. Stand up. Walk out. Over and over, hundreds of times per day.
If this behavior were tracked, each person tagged with a marker that is traced on three axis, the flow of human particles over any given time in Denny’s may resemble the movement of a gas into and out of a vented chamber. Not unlike the combustion in the cylinders that power the vehicles which brought each of us to this place, come in cold and under a little pressure, consume, expand, and then leave warm and satisfied.
It’s times like this that you can do nothing but make the best of it. I have no guarantee that I will make Phoenix by tomorrow night for Christmas eve. A discussion between travelers in two other booths makes it obvious that I stopped in the first mile of what is now over twenty or thirty miles of mess. I may awake to five or six feet of snow in the morning or crawl along at a sub-optimal velocity as I attempt to cut south from Holbrook, along the beautiful Mogollon Rim, through Payson, past the foothills of the Superstitions, and into the East valley.
But whatever happens, it’s part of the adventure of travel. Whether in the U.S., Japan, India, Kenya, or Spain, even with the best of modern technology, I simply do not have control over all the variables nor do I desire this. It is the unknowns that sometimes give us the gift of surprise and therein a new appreciation for those basic things which we otherwise take for granted.