Panic Stop

written Monday, November 10, 2008
North Little Rock, AR

We left Branson on Friday the 7th of November. The destination was the acreage of a couple friends we met in Rockport last year -- Bill & Sue, who live near West Plains, MO. We've been emailing back and forth during the past month about our respective plans for the winter and they invited us to stop by, see their place, and check out this part of the Ozarks.

Driving in the Ozarks can be a challenge. The roads are little more than collections of curves, hills, and double-yellow lines. Not a lot of dirt was moved when these highways were built, and it seems they had no chain saws since the road seems to wind around any tree of size. There are precious few places where a motorist can safely pass a big bus-house that's poking along a few m.p.h. under the speed limit.

On the way to West Plains we did have one incident that caused me to stop breathing for a minute and utter a few carefully selected words. As we trekked eastward on Hwy 412/62 in northern Arkansas, I'd been following, for some time, an old filthy Lincoln Mark driven by a very erratic driver. At times he'd be plugging along even more slowly than my preferred speed for that type of road. At other times, he speed up and was a half mile ahead. There was no pattern or consistency.

As we trudged along we came to an intersection. A gas station/convenience store was on the left side of the road. The erratic driver was right in front of us, moving about 45 m.p.h. The road was normal Ozark-quality -- narrow, no shoulders, plenty of hills and curves ahead. I was following at a comfortable distance... until... my erratic friend suddenly decided he wanted to turn left into the gas station, but couldn't due to oncoming traffic. So... he just stops! No visible brake lights... only an old Lincoln parked right in the lane of traffic! Picture a 36,000 pound torpedo about to make a direct hit on the aft section of an old Lincoln "liberty ship". I'm sure my eyes were bigger than pie-plates as my right foot instinctively, thankfully, found the correct pedal and applied just enough pressure to warm the brakes up to a temperature normally found only on the surface of the sun. From the outside, I think, it all appeared calm and controlled -- except maybe for the long blast from my air horn. But on the inside it was a different story. This was our first, what-you'd-call, panic stop.

They say you learn by "pushing the envelope" or "taking it to the limit". We learned, happily, that both our brakes and sphincters functioned the way they're supposed to.

T
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