Category Archives: Road danger
Fredo the Hurricane, Tropical Storm, Rain-Cloud weather system visited us yesterday. Escaping flooding at the rectory I chased off at 6:00 AM to go to a doctor’s appointment in Brevard. I did do up that medical appointment, and then saw a doctor of the soul, a priest, and was able to go to Confession some town away from there (which I try to do weekly, the best way to go to heaven).
- Within minutes of leaving the rectory, zipping through the Nantahala Gorge, there were three downed trees over that river road, already cut away as people travel with chain saws for this reason on super-rainy days. I myself have cut away fully seven trees over the highway in my times in the parish here. Yesterday, one of the trees in particular looked to have been hit by a vehicle, a likely event on the blind-cliff-edge-curves at night with pouring rain.
- Getting out on the Smoky Mountain Expressway, there were early morning accidents, but already being attended.
- On the way back, there was a parking lot experience for many hours on Interstate 40. Old style manual shift on steep hills for hours of a traffic jam is… interesting. Dozens of emergency vehicles passed by on the breakdown down lane and using the central median. In the mayhem, a fire engine suffered a broken axel and was left behind. There were, I’m guessing, some 15 rescue rafts being hauled to whatever scene by emergency vehicles. Plenty of ambulances, State Troopers… I hate to image what happened with that…
- Meanwhile, I passed over some mud from two side by side landslides that had crashed up to Interstate 40 but without leaving dangerous debris – for the seconds I passed by – but then a couple minutes later an emergency alert came over the phone telling people not to use the breakdown lane, as that had to be kept free for emergency vehicles, as a landslide just at that spot just then had totally compromised the highway. We had been moving along with no one in the breakdown lane at all. A highway stopping landslide had taken place, I guess, seconds after I had just passed by.
- Not long after that – and I just missed seeing this accident by literally a second – I came upon a pickup truck crashed out right in the middle of the interstate. It had slid hard into the concrete barriers, twice, and bounced back onto the highway. Smoke coming from the windows made me think the worst as I ran to them, but the smoke was not smoke at all. It was clouds of deployed air-bag dust. I saw they were alive, though rather stunned, and then collected their front and back bumpers on the highway – as that large debris surely would have caused more accidents – throwing, then, the bumpers into the bed of their truck. Waving traffic away and asking one guy who actually slowed down to call 911, I got their truck off the highway. I told them that their engine was gushing oil and they couldn’t drive any further. One other guy stopped to help. There are good people, but so many hardly slowed down in super dangerous conditions with many people walking on the highway itself. Sad, that.
- Finally, getting back to the last stretch going through the Nantahala Gorge again…. nope. A landslide had crashed over the highway in the Gorge. That would have happened not long after I had passed through that morning, as there was about a quarter mile of barrels and back-lit information signs and backlit arrow signs and more upright barriers barring access to the Gorge. Those take time to put up. The detour was put on the other side of the mountain chain, in the neighboring county.
- Finally, finally, getting home… uh oh… my own street was blocked because of the rushing overflowing flood waters of the Town Branch, which is the border of the lot of the rectory. “Town Branch” would better be named “Town Torrent.” But that had receded a bit and I was able to get into the driveway, and then sit for a time with the neighborhood that had gathered on the porch of the next door neighbor’s house.
The best road I was on yesterday was the road to heaven, what with going to Confession and all. Jesus is the Way, the Only Way. And the priestly conversation after was spectacular. And “Days Off” are always an adventure.
The other day was such a consolation in the life of this priest. The TLM in the main parish church with confessions before and after, a great get-together with some priest friends, my own going to confession, all glorious. I love being a priest. And that continued later with the best “pauper’s funeral…” I digress.
Saint Teresa of Avila upped her situational awareness when all was going well for her on all levels. She totally expected a smackdown. I know how that goes. I’ve seen it uncountable times. And, sure enough…
The FexEx truck was in a rush passing on a double-yellow on a blind curve and wound up right in front of me in my lane. Brakes slammed. Steering wheel spun. But… Yikes! A guard rail and ravine… But, all was well.
Soon after that it was the bat out of hell. The second I saw her – like a half-mile back in the rearview mirror – I plugged in my ThinkWare F770 knowing there might soon be an accident at when a lane would disappear on the road. Either she’s going to crash out or run someone off the road…
I had already nicely pulled over into the left lane, lest I die. She passed in the arrowed right lane then ripped over to the oncoming traffic lane across the double-yellow in front of a blind curve just where the vehicle in front of me totally ran out of road. Was there an entire family in that vehicle? I don’t care what emergency she had; you don’t mortally endanger the general public for your little self.
This is what happened not all that long ago with such shenanigans:
That’s not a tree. That’s the guardrail. The picture’s from the local newspaper.
Back to situational awareness and Teresa of Avila. Yep, just when you think all is going well, do what she did and recognize who you actually are before our Lord and Savior, Christ our God. Saint Teresa would bring a small image into chapel to assist her in not being distracted with niceness, the all things are going well thing. It was the image of “Ecce Homo”, Pontius Pilate’s monitum to the vicious crowd: “Behold the Man!”
So, for instance, I love being a priest of The High Priest. It’s always stunning to see His priesthood in action during, say, the sacraments. But I am fallen like anyone else. I might be having too good a time of it, with a risk of losing sight of why I’m loving the priesthood so much. And then… BAM! A warning to wake up, “smell the coffee” as my mom would say. And then a second warning (because I’m stubbornly the idiot)… BAM!
I thank my guardian angel for alerting me to the warnings or having my reactions be lightning quick. “Guardian Angel” as I call him, has his work cut out for him with me. I know that. I thank him. And I ask that my spiritual situational awareness also be heightened. That one’s more difficult. But not really. Because it’s just a matter of being happy to have Jesus, by His grace, draw us to be in reverence before the Father in all thanksgiving. Jesus does that work, and it cost Him. Let’s see… where’s that picture of Jesus next to Pontius Pilate?
Having exited the Murphy Lowe’s on the far side of the parking lot, bringing home more items for the sanctuary renovation in our little church in Andrews, NC, the black car above, with the the brand emblem in front of the car having been torn off, raced up the steep hill to the back of Sassy the Subaru, stopped at the traffic light on the “four-lane” as the locals call it here. But then “he” carefully crept up to the back bumper and then actually bumped the back of Sassy. The light was red all this time, so this was a direct provocation which had zero precedent. The “guy” had come out of the opposite end of the parking lot when I was already at the top of the hill. He blew right through the stop signs. Just to say, maniac drivers are not at all the usual customers of Lowe’s. Not at all.
Sassy has a bit of pick up being a standard shift (perhaps the last one for Subaru, a 2016), so I was able to get on the highway and put some distance between us so as to deescalate whatever it was. But, wanting to prove a point of the only one belonging on any road at any time (I guess), the “guy” quickly caught up, cut off the guy in the other lane behind me, almost striking the back corner of Sassy the Subaru:
As he passed, in 360 mode, this screen shot was able to be had:
White “guy,” impossibly super huge floppy blond wig. “He” continued racing ahead, thank God, only to turn in the Walmart parking lot. “He” was probably upset with “himself” that he mistook Lowe’s for being Walmart. I was only in the way of “his” making up for lost time. Whatever.
I had pulled over to the right near the grass so as not be hit, and then stayed way back to get across the message that I didn’t want to engage in road rage but wasn’t only going to do up de-escalation maneuvers. And it worked. Thanks, Guardian Angel.
Do you say a prayer to your Guardian Angel when you get in the car? He’s a saint in heaven, seeing the face of God as Jesus says, who is right with you. I do this. And I do it again when trouble is round about, and maybe more than once. :-)
- Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.
Some six years ago, in the Spring of 2015, at the end of National Police Week, after putting on the Officer Down Memorial Dinner here in Andrews, NC, a Dinner attended and thoroughly enjoyed by seven counties of Sheriffs, Police Depts of two cities, the Forestry Police (Federal), the Tribal Police (Federal), the State Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, DEA, et alii, I enjoyed rather intensive hazing from some of the same law enforcement agencies by way of accompaniment for nine months straight, like turning on a light switch. Every trip out. Hey! If you’re not hazed, you’re not loved, right? That what the SEALs say.
For the following nine months I counted only one half of one trip up to Graham County from Cherokee County or down into Clay County or into Macon County that I did not have bumper to bumper law enforcement accompaniment, often beginning at the end of my driveway. Bumper to bumper includes about one car length between vehicles regardless of speed or conditions. The one half of one trip that this didn’t happen occurred because it wasn’t my usual time and day to go over the mountain. But they got me on the way back. Sometimes this lasted the usual twenty miles each way. I would get accompanied to the church in Robbinsville, and then they would patrol back and forth until Mass was over, and then jump on my bumper right outside the church and stick with me all the way to Andrews. The record, in another direction, was something like 26 miles, for one guy. But there have been hand-offs, so that one pulls off only to have another literally squealing his tires to get on the bumper once again. I think that’s called gang-butt-rape. Sigh. I think the record for the hand-off thing is 36.2 miles, two counties, just crossing over into a third. This is never once blue-lighted or anything. It’s just a nice and comforting presence.
The vehicles might be marked or “unmarked.” In these parts, “unmarked” cars are rather noticeable, what with being Dodge pursuit vehicles or the usual Ford SUVs, but with crash bars utilized only by law enforcement, and sporting the usual driver-side rotator flood-light atop the sideview mirror, sometimes with a speed-laser on that corner of the dash, often with multiple tiny antennae and, of course, light-bars inside the top of the windshield, not to mention rectangular white and blue LEDs in the grill, you know, all totally undercover. I think they are starting to catch on that that’s all a bit too obvious and are snapping up “druggie cars” utterly unmarked. Finally. Good for them.
Anyway, the longsuffering accompaniment was not only bumper to bumper, but the pursuit vehicle’s right-front bumper might well be next to my back-left bumper, you know, just for fun, as in the video above. That’s the PIT maneuver position. Super dangerous. But it’s all good. Nothing happened, never stopped, except once, which is an epic story of hilarious irony with the Sheriff of that particular county himself (now many sheriffs ago) saying, in apology, that he only wanted to ask the question: “Who are you, anyway?” That stop was listened to by two entire counties over 911 scanners, as I found out later: a huge audience. This is the entertainment for the county. Just doing his job, I’m sure. I almost laughed out loud with the usual “Who are you, anyway?” question that I’ve gotten throughout my life in so many embassies and consulates foreign and of these USA.
But all that fun and hazing spread out almost daily over nine months ended extremely abruptly when I went over to Rome, Italy, for the Missionary of Mercy thing of Pope Francis at the beginning of 2016. When I came back after two weeks away, there was no longer any accompaniment, zero, like a light switch being turned off. Dang! I kind of miss it. But, be careful what you wish for.
“LET’S CAUSE A HEAD-ON COLLISION” INCIDENT:
Just the other week, going up to Graham County, there was what could only be guessed to be a spotter car going up the gorge ridge up from Topton. You just get a sense for things being totally out of place. To get where it was, the person had to stop on a blind curve and reverse without getting rear-ended far into tall weeds without accidentally sliding down the ridge some hundreds of feet, that car being right on the edge of death trying not to be seen. Really precarious. Head lights still on, the driver, eyes peeled, was on the phone. Hmmm. I’m in the habit of noticing things that are just not right. That’s training, or really just common sense. Being aware of one’s surroundings can help avoid trouble and save your life. I’m already cautious, but now the antennae were up all the more.
Graham county is infamous for “insurance” incidents, in which a couple of cars will box you in, cutting you off on the front to be right in front of you and then another hanging to the side in the oncoming lane of traffic, with them simultaneously slamming on their brakes, purposely causing you to rear-end the car to the front, a “driving too closely” incident that will gain the perps life-long insurance payments. This happened to me a number of times, but – having been warned of just such scenarios – I always slammed on the brakes (no one behind me) before they could slam on their brakes – only to have the perps also slam on their brakes just one nanosecond later – but with me escaping their malice by that nanosecond. I even had a couple of cars do this to me twice in a row within minutes on the same stretch of road. If it doesn’t work the first time, try and try again, I guess. It’s not like I didn’t recognize their cars a couple minutes later… Good ol’ Graham County. But I digress.
I didn’t have to wait long for what looked to all intents, purposes and any reconstructions like an ambush, a big white pickup truck fully parked in my lane – sideways – on what is called Dead Man’s Curve, a totally blind and restricting curve. I had to slam on the brakes and go into the at least temporarily vacant oncoming traffic lane on this blind curve in order to avoid T-boning the white pickup. Was it illegal to cross a double-yellow? Not in these precise circumstances. Saving life and limb is paramount, regardless of any possible malice on the part of the guys parking sideways in an active traffic lane on a blind curve. If I had more antennae, you know, like for CBs, Ham Radio, Radio-collar dogs, etc., they would have all have been deployed after this weirdness. I think what they wanted me to do was to avoid them and not go over the double yellow on an entirely blind curve but drift to the right onto what’s called Jack Branch Rd, a perfect place for an ambush if there ever was one. That road comes out from Anthony Branch Rd. It was just after that that I would meet the next installment of stupidity.
My guardian angel being my antenna, I was now very actively looking for another vehicle to do something stupid. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, on another blind curve also involving logistics of a blind hill – just after Anthony Branch Rd – I again had to slam on the brakes. A very large work truck sporting a snowplow usually found on a Mack Truck had stopped in the lane in front of me for no reason that I could figure out. No flashers, in gear, with the brake-lights on, ready to chase in this 55 mph zone. There were guard rails tight to the white lines on both sides. I didn’t want to cross the double yellow line and pass him even though there was no traffic coming because he could easily catch up to my little Subaru and apply the snowplow. Ain’t gonna happen.
Instead – never taking the bait to drive recklessly in these kinds of situations – I fully stopped and put on my emergency flashers some hundred yards back. I outwaited the guy until he saw the line of vehicles behind me slowing up as they crested the hill, including the original white truck parked sideways on the blind curve. This was now creeping me out as the plow-vehicle started moving along only far below the speed limit, but allowing me to stay back a couple of hundred yards, even as the white truck and the others kept back a couple of hundred yards despite the low speeds. That’s something that simply doesn’t happen in these parts unless something else is afoot.
If these were law enforcement officers working undercover, all I have to say is that they obviously don’t know how to conduct what’s called a “felony stop” which has very specific defensive tactics. This was pitiful. If this was law enforcement, they wouldn’t get any trouble from me whatsoever. If I happened to be dangerous felon, considering the unprotected logistics they put themselves in, twice, well, I hate to think about it. If these guys are law enforcement they really, really gotta get some training for felony stops. But – Hey! – maybe this is all hazing and a showing of love in good humor! Great!
Arriving into town I pulled off at a tiny strip mall that had many entrances/exits (just in case) so as to watch the parade pass by, or stop. If anyone would have pulled over next to me, 911 would have been called while I was hightailing it to the Sheriffs Department just down the road. The parade all slowed down to about ten to fifteen miles and hour, four to five times below the speed limit. The driver of the original truck blocking the road sideways was rather apoplectic as he passed by slowing down even more. I was dumbfounded when I now saw the orange – State – license plate and the letters […] on the back as he and his passenger passed by. More hazing? More love? I’m not going to criticize any of this. This was one of the more exciting accompaniments I’ve had. Great entertainment. It’s certainly good training for situational awareness. I’m sure that’s what this was all about. Great! It’s to laugh, now that it’s over. But in all actuality, it was likely a bunch of felons who stole a State license plate and put it on their own vehicle. Really. Not. Smart. Felons never are.
So, don’t get me wrong, if it isn’t something felons were up to, I’m sure it’s all for good-natured accompaniment keeping me on my toes. I’m sure someone will confess soon, laughing, all in good fun. It’s all good. I love it! :-)
ANALOGY WITH SHADOW-DOG:
As an analogy, I am reminded of the protection-accompaniment I get from Shadow-dog:
Shadow-dog also trains me up in situational awareness. Just my opinion, but methinks that Shadow-dog counts as law enforcement since it was law enforcement and our local first responders who arranged that I get him. In the wee hours the other morning (usually about 3:30 AM) the local druggies were making quite the ruckus outside the rectory. They seemed to be mightily pumped up on adrenaline, perhaps chemically assisted. Fortunately, they were making a beeline to the neighborhood drug house. They had set all the dogs of the neighborhood into loud commentary. The druggies have often threatened to beat the brains out of Macie-dog, catty-corner from me. The pellet gun shootings are now eight for Shadow-dog, two for Laudie-dog, and one for Franky-dog across the street. All survived, but some with permanent injuries. Shadow-dog won the prize for his staid rhetoric and confident oratory, keeping the druggies moving right along. I’m happy to have also this – if you will – canine law-enforcement accompaniment. Gooood daaaawwg!
ANOTHER RECENT BUMPER TO BUMPER ACCOMPANIMENT
This time, a marked car got in behind me within a couple of hundred yards from home and stayed right on the bumper for 25 miles, no push marks on my back bumper mind you, but it was really close, which, I contend, is really dangerous. I had tried to avoid all this by pulling off and not getting back on until he was long past, but no. He did the same and got right back on the bumper, right on the bumper. If you do have to slam on the brakes because there’s a tree down (common in the Nantahala Gorge after a rain) or some other traffic oddity just around a blind curve, the nice officer isn’t going to see that. He might judge that to be nefarious brake-checking, and then you’ll immediately have guns to your head. That would rather make the love-hazing all the more complete, don’t you think? So, I don’t much like this, but there’s nothing one can do. This kind of thing, now frequent once again, started up after I asked a certain law enforcement agency (of which there are many in the area: Police Depts, Sheriff’s Depts, Troopers, Tribal-Federal, Forestry, etc.) what the ratio of chaplains to counties is for their particular branch of law enforcement. One for every ten counties he said as we waited together at the check out line at the grocery store. I can’t imagine that this would make anyone upset. So I guess this is bumper to bumper thing is just more love-hazing, seeing if I can tough it out all calm, cool and collected. Well, yes, to all that. I find it humorous even while it’s also a learning experience.
I guess it’s so bad these days that all law enforcement has to assume that there is no longer any kind of support from the community. Sad, that. I always support the thin blue line. There are some bad eggs. But that’s true in every sector of society. Not that any of those possibly mentioned above are bad eggs. Not at all. These are all good guys. I’ve seen that myself, and had heard the same from many. Thanks, always, to law enforcement. That trust might get me killed. Whatever. It is what it is. lol
I didn’t expect to see such as this being hauled on a low-rider flat bed through the Nantahala Gorge last night. It’s entirely miraculous that this harvester – minus the rig out front but still 3 to 4 feet wider than the lanes of the two way traffic – didn’t meet another truck turning wide around a sharp blind curve to avoid scraping the rock face cliff on the inside of the curve next to him (with the river and guard-rails on the far side).
The harvester guy did not have a “WIDE-LOAD” chase vehicle out front or out back. Not that he has to, as I don’t know the law on taking up two lanes… But I was imagining an oncoming car of an entire family being wiped out by the rear balloon tires on a blind curve when half the oncoming traffic lane was already occupied by those tires. Depending on his (lack of) control, he would either be halfway into the oncoming lane or destroying whatever was over the white line on the other.
Down in Murphy he entirely gave up trying not to cross into the other lane as this was forcing the other side over the white line, and the curbing, and destroying the front lawns of businesses with the back balloon tires smashing hard into the curbing and plowing through the lawns, spraying mud and turf and smashing into who knows what utility hookups. So, he just went ahead and took up two full lanes of traffic. Further on, there were a couple of pickups that passed him on the 4-lane, as they call it here, but they had half their vehicles across the white line of the median on the one side while the harvester was fully four and five feet over the white line on the other side.
Thinking all this is a bit dangerous, I called 911. But there are often no available officers. Times are changing. There’s a lot more going on. You only have so many resources.
I was escapading today on the Tail of the Dragon. Being named after Saint George I had to slay that dragon, making him scream in pain. Or was that just my tires singing on the curves?
This being Tuesday, this being the infamous day off, I figure I always have to do something spectacular. Today I’m due to get a good talking to by a bishop from the Holy See, that is, me and other troublemakers like me. More on that after the fact.
This was in the newspaper yesterday. This is a particularly dangerous section of the famed Nantahala Gorge, on the outer reaches of my parish. It goes from two lanes to one in the one direction, and the other side only has one lane, meaning people pass on the double yellow. So dangerous. A good place for a speed camera.
There are lots of rafting buses, adventure seekers with Kayaks, people just driving slowly to try to take in the stunning beauty all along the way. And then there are those who are locals, just going to work, annoyed with all the beauty, wishing it were all a ten lane interstate so that they wouldn’t be slowed down by others.
When you live in the paradise, it’s a good to enjoy it! Of course, if you have to say that, it means that it’s not all paradise in paradise. We are fallen human creatures, and external beauty fades into insignificance. On the flip side, this also means that what is most significant steamrolls over both external beauty and that which is less so, so that all, anywhere at any time, can rejoice in being redeemed, and, please God, saved, by our Lord Jesus.
There’s plenty of talk – going on forever it seems – about putting in a four lane highway right over the mountains so as to avoid this most dangerous gorge. Even if they do put that in, I imagine that I will be happy to take the dangerous and most beautiful route.
Update: What’s in this post was on Easter Monday. It’s now Easter Tuesday. I’m rushing off again. There are those who have questions. I’m praying about these. Patience! ///
This was in the middle of nowhere, on the steep downhill coming off the top of the mountain after the border of Haywood and Jackson Counties. I only had a millionth of a nano-second to decide to stop as Mike was standing on the far side of his cab trying to wave people down and there was almost nowhere to stop. I blame my Guardian Angel for inspiring me in that instant to slam on the brakes and pull into the ditch (already knowing there was no one right behind me what with situational awareness and all that).
I never met Mike before. But, hey! He was in distress. Should I just pass him by? Mike said everyone else did for a full hour and a half before I stopped. Even a county sheriff zipped on by. Not his concern. Not anyone’s concern. We are not our brother’s keeper and all that, right? Mike said truckers used to be pretty tight knit and some might actually help out back in the day. Now everyone’s entitled to be wrapped up in themselves alone, entitled to be miserable, all alone.
Mike’s an oldster like me, same age, late fifties. There’s no way he could have walked the distance even one way, never mind two, and on the way back carrying many containers of many gallons of fluids. That was mid-afternoon. I got home at midnight.
I was having a blast. We spoke of the spiritual life. Trust in God. Wanting to go to heaven. Guardian Angels. Lots of guardian angel talk. Mike thought that this was the best thing ever. Catholics aren’t so bad, not at all, he said. Though he’s not Catholic, he’s been to Mass many times. He’s very close to his family, getting calls from his wife all the time to check to see if he was alright.
Of all things, it was the emergency poncho in the first aid kit someone sent into Holy Souls Hermitage years ago that saved the day. I should have taken a picture of how we both fixed the engine with the poncho and Gorilla Tape. No, really! What a hoot. It really worked.
Mike had other things to worry about. This was the least of his worries. After a couple of weeks, one boy in the family is still in ICU. He showed me a picture. He was shot five times. Still critical, but still alive. Hail Mary…
By the way, if you think that this was a nice thing for me to do, and, yes, I’m sure Michael appreciated it to no end, you have to know that, instead, this was no event of condescension. Instead, as I say, it was an entirely enjoyable experience. When we participate in life, we are brought more fully to life. I was the one receiving help.
As I made clear to Mike, I blame my guardian angel for my helping him out. Guardian angels are great. Thanks, Guardian Angel.
So, yesterday, while pulling to a stop up in Robbinsville, I heard a metallic scrape then quiet, scrape then quiet, scrape then quiet. “A wheel is being cut off at the axle,” was my first reaction. In fact, all 20 lug nuts of all four wheels were loose as a goose. Above is a picture of the rear-driver side. Below is a close up of one of those lug nuts, just ready to fall off altogether.
The weird thing is that I had mentioned this to the crowd at Mass, and one of the parishioners called me just after Mass to tell me of a coincidence. Very close to the church but in the opposite way I took to go home, the road was clogged up with a car badly parked to the side, and multiple emergency vehicles. It seems that car had had an entire wheel shear off while driving while we were at Mass. Yikes!
The thing is, it came to mind -strongly – a hundred times that my guardian angel was telling me that there was something super wrong with the wheels and that I should take a look lest I die. I didn’t. To my peril. Now having become aware of the danger I was in, and remembering very clearly the warning my guardian angel had been giving me all along, I apologized to my guardian angel and asked for his forgiveness. That’s rather awkward since angels can’t forgive us since they have no right to forgive us since they have not taken on a human nature and have not stood in our place, the innocent for guilty, mercy being founded on justice, as did our Lord Jesus. However, the angels can have great joy in heaven because of seeing our repentance, as they see that our Lord forgives us. Angels see God in the face, and know much better than we do just how awesome that love of God for us miserable fallen creatures is. I asked my guardian angel to help me that I become more compliant to his instructions and warnings and encouragement and guidance.
Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.
By the way, just to be clear, I don’t think any of this was malicious, at least with my car.
On the “Day Off” yesterday, the first, it seems, in months, the hermitage got a visit. Sorry, but I had to get my target practice “fix” for the pre-2001 Federal Air Marshal TPC (93% and 96% with 7″ dessert plates out 21′ for targets, but overtime again on stage six).
Curiosity killed the cat, right? But having been told the one-lane gravel back ridge mountain road was washed out for miles, I had to take a look. The State road crew beat me to it, not that they looked like they were working on any reconstruction though. I’m guessing that they were actually looking for ways that they could do up a more permanent fix to what seems like the most wash-out-able road in North America. This little area in the mountains, I guess because of topographical formations, gets twice the rainfall as an average official rain forest. We got just under 10″ in less than 24 hours.
Analogy: basically, one can coast in neutral for miles down this gorgeous road with its waterfalls and cliffs, enjoying the natural beauty, easy if also dangerous, though not so much if one knows how to avoid the literal pitfalls… or at least thinking one can avoid the unforeseen dangers… until one is caught out. Perhaps there will be guardian angels to stop one from paying the ultimate price for imprudence and stupidity. The road to hell is also beautiful, on which one can coast in neutral… until one can’t get out. And then it’s too late. Better to change course. Jesus is the Way. In this case of the actual road, I took a detour of some 10 miles and 20 extra minutes, but, as it turns out, of course, even more beautiful, and of course, safer. And that’s the way with Jesus, by whom, with whom, in whom we get on our way to heaven.
A Good Samaritan is who we all strive to be, and after a long day of celebrations of the birth of the Prince of the Most Profound Peace on Christmas we are especially encouraged to be one of those the angels sang about that first Christmas night, those of good will who have the peace of God provided to them and who want to bring that to others.
But that doesn’t mean that one is to be so naive as to think that there are not those who are not in peace in this dark world. [Three negatives in one sentence! :-) ] After all, that’s why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, radiating Light so as to illumine our darkness in which some nevertheless choose to remain. There are bad things that happen also on Christmas. My situational awareness was a bit edgy, as usual.
Christmas is, as one might imagine, super busy for a priest. After all the Christmas Masses, away I went to add some hundreds of more miles to the day. Not a particularly safe day to be on the roads, mind you. But now the long day was over and I was driving back to the rectory from some hours away. Up to this time, the entire trip had been wonderful, peaceful, everyone driving in a safe and courteous manner. And then I saw the headlights breaking through the darkness of night.
As I headed down the last super steep descent into the Nantahala Gorge on Highway 19 – 74, just where the speed limit goes from 45 to 35 after the “Gem Mine” on the right, I noted in the rear-view mirror the extraordinary velocity of a car just cresting the hill more than a half-mile up the hill behind me. I immediately pulled off into the gas station on the left to get out of the way. Well… “pulled off into…” It was more like entering the parking lot full speed and slamming on the brakes, ripping the steering wheel to the right to be pointed back in the direction of the road just in case. Yes, I actually thought of that. I pulled up near the road so that I couldn’t be blocked in by his stopping in front of me. If he did that it would have escalated things right quickly.
I’m guessing the Speeder guy was doing well over 100 mph on the straightaway down the hill and no sooner had I stopped than he – how to say it – violently pulled up next to me – driver door to driver door, meaning that he was pointed away from the road. He was just far enough away to be able to open his door. It was night, and it seemed that his windows were darkly tinted. But my windows are clear as clear can be, and he could see me by way of the bright lights of the gas station. I didn’t wait for him to stop but chased back out on to the road heading steeply down into the gorge on the curvy two-lane road once again, going the speed limit (only) as I tend to do.
Here’s the deal: when someone is in trouble and needs help, they are full of adrenaline and do stupid things, inappropriate things. They are not thinking correctly. I know that. However, such people in need of help are going to be erring on the side of getting help. Thus, in this situation, such a distressed person would have the window rolled down and have an arm out (with no gun) beckoning for help. Other helpful things would be emergency blinkers, or flashing one’s headlights, or honking. But none of this was happening. This guy knew how to drive and seemed to be fully in control.
Not that I know anything whatsoever about cars, but it looked to be a 2019 Mustang Bullitt, pricey, powerful, and you gotta really, really know how to drive to handle this kind of a car.
Was this a car-jacking, the ol’ switch the gem of a sports car for a tin-box of a car trick? Could be. When you’re on the run after committing a horrific crime, you just don’t care. You just want to escape. It’s hard to go unnoticed in a super flashy sports car. But, that wasn’t it. The back of my car is rather unique, not generic at all. Immediately recognizable even from great distance. This is not the car you would switch to if you were trying to remain low-key. There was another, easier because still unsuspecting car right after this that he did not chase after, and then another, and then another hundred cars and a dozen businesses just some hundreds of yards away.
Anyway, he forthwith got on my back bumper going down the curvy road to the “river’s end” of the gorge. He decided to drive alongside me – not speeding so as to pass me – on a double yellow coming up to a rock-wall-on-both-sides-blind-curve-section of the road, you know, with a car coming in the opposite direction, a situation that was going to make for a head-on collision with him. So, whatever he intended to do while driving next to me, now he was wanting to run me off the road to save himself. I oblige. There was a pull-off right then at a house to the right side. I ripped over and only then slammed on the brakes, going to the end of that pull-off, so that there was no room for him to do the same. He didn’t need to, since he was now in “my” lane on the road and could and did successfully avoid the head-on collision. But you could see the frustration. He had a thing about doing something with me, and that was again his concern, but now with two failures in a row racked up, the second potentially deadly, he knew he had been had.
At this point, whether he was a good guy looking for help in a stupid manner, or a bad guy looking to do harm, it would clearly speak to nefariousness to try something for a third time when he could go to any other car or any business. The weak little 2016 Subaru Forester had beat out the ultra-powerful Mustang Bullitt. He then took off, not heading back up the hill to some emergency or other.
It’s surprising how much situational awareness will serve you. It’s saved my life countless times. Never let your guard down. Never.
Mind you, I had 911 up on the phone, ready to call, but didn’t need to do that. And anyway, it could have taken hours for anyone to get there when seconds count. But had he tried the third time I would have let the call go through and let the scenario that was surely to follow be recorded at dispatch, you know, because a guy driving a zillion dollar sports car surely doesn’t have money for a phone.
Meanwhile, I think my guardian angel is sporting a wry smile, knowing that he saved the day more times than I know. I guess this was his Christmas present to me.
The ravine to the left goes down about 90 feet. This part of the one lane road is continuously washing out, caving in. The foot of the cliff is a rushing creek. The fix is, I guess, new technology: cloth with cement. But it looks like the supporting dirt is already washing out from the bottom edge of the cloth, leaving a vacuous cavern – to be redundant – under the road itself, until it caves in under the weight of a vehicle. Guessing this will take about a year or two until catastrophe. A court ruling going back a good century forbids the road from being upgraded. If people are scared to drive the road they will be scared to move in. That’s the point.
Our fallen human nature! Being jealous of what we have, envious of what others have. There have to be rules, laws, of course, call it boarder security. Sure. But in the midst of trying to tamp down our fears for lack of security in this world, even to the point of making our lives more insecure (as with the road “fix” above), we might remember that our home is not here upon this earth, but in heaven, and that the redemption and salvation our Lord so graciously grants to us has nothing to do with security in this world but only in the life to come, in heaven. Please God we make it there.
The road is only as wide as a car is wide, and the foundation is only mud, and there’s been an inordinate amount of rain for a long time, so any washout could easily bring the rest of the road with it as a vehicle rumbles over. It’s difficult to get perspective, but if the road were to give way you would find yourself about 70 feet down and then precipitously down a gorge. This has already been fixed last year with hundreds of huge boulders, of which you can only see a few down on the far side of the river. That’s a fright.
But that’s not the road danger. Instead, yesterday, there was some maniac terrorizing drivers for about ten miles of a thirty mile cell-phone dead zone, you know, the whole bumper hugging thing on what I’m sure vies for the most curviest mountain road in the Great Smoky Mountains, which is saying a lot. The front car (me) might just have to slow down for a curve or unexpected obstacle. My defense? Ignore him. Pray for him. Drive like the automatically recorded digital video (I recommend Thinkware 770) will be played in court the next day. ;-) After ten miles of this, he gave up. Baiting doesn’t work with me. That’s a good skill for everyone to have.
I was following these guys for miles, nicely, a long way’s back. Meanwhile, they were always within a few yards of each other, going way below the speed limit. They sped up in the picture above to 11 miles below the speed limit. O.K. But’s a long passing zone, straight up a really steep mountain, but plenty of room to pass. I thought it would be within acceptable politeness rules of the road to pass them up and leave them to their bumper hugging. But then a warning side-swipe followed immediately by a brake-check:
With no one coming I just slammed on the brakes and let them go their merry way, still hugging each others bumpers, neither of them passing one another, both still going way below the speed limit. Strange. Ah well! An occasion to say a prayer for them, or two. And that’s what I did. I was in no rush. It’s always better to just have a pleasant day, and to put an emphasis on how to deescalate whatever unknown situation one might come across. After all. This was my day-off.
I feel sorry for cops who gotta actually pull over these kind of drivers and walk up to their windows. You don’t know what drinking they’ve done, what drugs they are on, what rage against themselves and the world they are going through, what kind of stories with which they are burdened, wanting to dump that all on someone else, anyone else. Cars make people feel they are powerful. For those on the receiving end, like the police, this is the most dangerous thing in the world.
This week, well, Mon-Thur, I’ve been on vacation, well, besides hospitals and stuff. Yesterday I visited the hermitage. On the way, at the corner of 107 / 281, I followed this guy into a parking lot just before making the left-hand turn. Compare the boulders in the back of his Mack Truck with the oversize pickup trucks in front of the convenience store.
A few miles before (all double yellows), he had passed and cut me off and then slammed on his brakes right in front of me, making the boulders and his truck hop multiple times, almost ramming the stopped at a stop light vehicle in front of him just to shave literally only three seconds off his total trip. I was then behind him for all these miles, but I stayed like 250 yards back. I stopped to have a chat with him, not because of road rage (that would be stupid), but out of sadness with a quiet wish for the present driver to be safe. I’ve never talked with a bad driver before. Perhaps doing that would always be a stupid thing to do, but there are ways to go about things.
I started by quietly saying, “Sir, do you remember the […’s] boy?” As I thought, that got his interest, as he was taken that anyone would remember. I then recalled for this guy the story from quite a number of years ago about that kid, who had a single huge boulder in the back of his own Mack Truck. That boy had slammed on the brakes as well, but with the result that that boulder went right through the bed of the truck, right through the cab, crushing him to death.
I mentioned this sad case, using just the last name of the boy, and, to my surprise, the old geezer driving the truck pictured above immediately went into quiet reminiscence mode and, using the boy’s full name, he gave me all the details of the death, saying that the boy’s father had welded two gates together and was using that as protection of the cab from any boulders that might be placed in the back of the truck. The welded gates failed, of course. That father must have been totally devastated.
I wished this guy a “Be safe out there” as he did to me. All very cordial. But I’m thinking this encounter might calm his driving down a bit. There are ways to go about things. You never know when a quiet word might save someone’s life.
This guy’s wearing his engine into the ground by such a huge flag which creates huge drag and generally makes everything difficult. It’s been done before, both the huge flag thing and grinding the engine down. But you gotta know that there’s gotta be a story there. I respect that, a lot. What if it was his brother who just got the Congressional Medal of Honor, but didn’t survive, you know, dying while he was saving your own life?
Meanwhile, the huge SUV to the right got right behind the biker and almost rammed him as we got closer to Andrews coming from Murphy. In the picture below, that’s the flag of the bike that looks like it’s coming out of the window of the SUV, so close are they.
The biker continued and the SUV turned in front of the white van, cutting him off to turn right into Andrews, breaking every traffic law he could, one after the next. Just. Wow.
As it is, a police presence is finally back in town. I hope these violent clowns have their vehicles taken away from them. If they are willing to commit homicide – running someone down – just because they hate this country so much – well then, maybe they should just leave and never ever come back.
This is one of the many hair-pin turns on the one-lane no-fault gravel road winding its way high atop the back ridges near the hermitage. On this particular turn – imagine this – we had a tractor trailer (an extended flatbed with forklift at the back) who, having made the turn, had the cab in far ditch on the one side and the 75 foot trailer spanning the ravine and being held up by its back set of tires on the other side, totally blocking the road with no other way around except to backtrack and circle around the mountains, fully 10 miles to get to the highway below instead of just 2. And what if there was a forest fire, as there was a while back, smoke everywhere. I think of Guatemala, of Hawaii.
Anyway, notice the washout, big enough to break off a front wheel and throw a vehicle sideways into the ravine. They can appear within hours with hard rains, and do. Right now there are many axle-breakers. Being a one lane road and the inside of the curve, the washout is is where people drive to make the sharp turn, all things being equal. But nothing is ever equal.
You have to have constant situation awareness, which is not just for emergency situations. This picture was taken on a beautiful day, sunshine, flowers blooming, birds singing. And then…
One will be caught off guard in the spiritual life if one is trusting in nice circumstances. “I’m doing fine! And everything is nice!” No. We must continuously be in humble thanksgiving mode before Jesus with all joy – however stressed out we can be. If not, we are trusting in ourselves and there’s not much there to trust in there.
Is this low self-esteem? It is actually low self-esteem to trust in oneself, to congratulate oneself, to think that one is one’s own savior, that one doesn’t need to be carried along in the friendship of Jesus, for then, merely trusting in ourselves, we are undercutting what we could be, that is, good friends with Jesus. Why undercut ourselves? Low self-esteem? So, it is actually great self-esteem to be good friends with Jesus, to be saved by Him, to be held in His friendship, to be in humble thanksgiving mode, and, in this way, to have constant situational awareness. A disaster could come along at any moment… expectedly. We’re always looking for deescalations of situations, but in the spiritual life, this is done in a most pleasant way, by the love of God, with the joy of being loved by God.
I mean, it’s not that I was going slow. I was right at 55. It’s like he was trying to do a reverse PIT maneuver, cutting sharply in front of me despite both lanes being wide open ahead and despite not turning left at any of the exits farther on. I was going to turn left and had my left blinker on. It’s one of those “the road is only big enough for one of us situations.” I bet these kind of cowards, hiding in their cars, beat up vulnerable children or parents or spouses or live-ins. It’s an occasion to pray for the coward. Anyway, should such a maniac actually hit the front corner hard-bumper of an all wheel drive Subaru like mine, the effect would still be the same as a PIT wrought against the aggressing car. Forget what a PIT maneuver is? Here’s the best example ever:
UPDATE: I took a look at the rear-window video just to make sure I hadn’t done anything that would have offended this guy. Nope. Instead, he closed the distance of, say, a quarter mile within seconds (meaning he’s maxing out his engine going say 90 miles an hour), with the road turning to a four-lane before he passed me. He did it just to do it. I had seen all this (situational awareness!) and was already on the left hand side of the left lane for the upcoming turn and to get away from him…
To show what PITs can very often do with the slightest touch (video starts at the PIT):
On the way back from Graham County today I saw half a dozen motorcycles parked right on the side road, and this ambulance parked right in the middle of the road. Not a good sign, especially on one of the most dangerous “dead man’s curve” type of “restrictive” curves (were the curve radius gets tighter as you go along), a frequent road design of choice, bad choice, in these back mountain ridges baiting the deaths of very many, indeed, four times as many deaths as anywhere else in the state. It seems the ambulance driver just stopped on a pick-up call when he saw the motorcycles here. They were just stopping to make sure of their directions to the Tail of the Dragon with its zillion curves. I asked if there was anything I could help with and the ambulance driver simply said, “Nah, it’s just a death” [!], referring to the corpse in the back. Of course, what that means is that the person’s been dead probably for many days and somebody just noticed and called it in. He stopped wondering if he could be of help to the motorcycle crowd as well. I guess we’ve all seen and heard about waaaaay to many deaths on these curves.
Meanwhile, the local EMTs and Firemen, my neighbors, have their own motorcycle gang and need a chaplain and so want me to get a motorcycle and go on their escapades with them. I’ll pass, however. That was what I did in another life. ;-) But it is tempting.