The Wagon's Grinding Gradual-Slowing

Ali and I were out running around in our Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon to every furniture store in town looking for her perfect couch. Thus far, we had found one that was nice but very expensive, and several others that were cheaper but not quite what she was looking for. We went to Charlotte Furniture and Appliance (3200 Lake Ave.) and the salesperson asked what we were looking for. They had exactly one couch with furniture buttons on the back. When we went to see it, Ali saw the love-seat and thought, "that's perfect if only there were a sofa" just as she saw the sofa. It was perfect. And as cheap as the couches we didn't like. It was great. She ordered it on the spot, picking out the fabric and getting set up with financing.

So we headed out toward 390 via Stone Rd. From Ridge Road we went to get on 390 but as soon as we hit 45 miles per hour or so, we suddenly heard a sound like we were dragging a plastic barrel under the car so we pulled over. We looked under the car but saw nothing — not even from the driver-side rear wheel area. We tried driving again but it made the terrible noise again when we got to 25 MPH or so.

We called the service I signed up for: Better World Club — sort of like AAA, but without all the lobbying for bigger cars and more roads [heck, they even offer roadside bike assistance.] They contacted Towbuster Towing (510 Hudson Ave.) for us and said it would be about 45 minutes. We decided to limp the car to Ridgeway. We checked under again, hoping that we might be able to get it home on our own. Alas, it kept making the noise and I found a chunk of metal all ground down that was warmer than the cold ambient temperature — evidence enough for me that it came out of the car.

We got it to a parking lot on Lee Road and waited. Towbuster called us and said they were 20 minutes away and they had no room in the cab of the truck so we'd have to get our own ride. We wrangled a friend of ours to pick us up — the tow truck even arrived at the same time. Well, despite telling them what kind of car it was, they brought a truck that was too small. The distance from the rear axle of the wagon to its bumper was too long for the truck to accommodate. Well, it was just big enough, but they couldn't do anything more than a really gradual turn. The flatbed truck was another hour away so we decided to just leave the car and go home.

Actually we went out to dinner: Paola's Burrito Place (1921 South Ave., formerly Big Dog's Hots). We received the worst news in the world: Arturo is moving back to Austin in 6 months or so to be with his family, closing Paola's. So, if you like the place, go get your fill because it'll be gone soon. The Upper Mount Hope Neighborhood Association sent out a note that he was leaving in two months, but we're hoping he was correct. Naturally dinner was great.

Anyway, we had our poor wagon towed to Integrity Auto Repair, Inc. (241 E. Henrietta Rd.) As it turned out, the flatbed would have had the room for the both of us to ride along so had Towbuster sent it first, we would have had an easy way home.

As it turned out, it was probably good that we had the wagon towed. The brake drum had been machined beyond specification and the liner finally disintegrated. Had we driven home, we probably would have totally ruined all the brake parts inside. Integrity did a nice job with it and it's fine now. My wallet … well, not so much.

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Breakfast at Blue Horizon and Driving the Wrong Way on 390

Ali and I had a late breakfast at The Blue Horizon Restaurant (1174 Brooks Ave.) As diners go, this is one of the best: of late my number one qualification is that my coffee stays full — and not only did it not get empty, it barely hit the halfway mark. The food is good diner-grade food and the prices are low diner-grade prices.

We left around 1 or so and on the way home I thought, "I should just take Brooks Avenue" but I got on 390 anyway. As I was getting on the ramp, I saw that traffic was at a standstill. We got in line anyway, figuring it would clear up. However, a steady stream of emergency vehicles kept coming. Some cars behind us rushed ahead to get to the second lane, but we were in no hurry and didn't mind being one of the last ones through. State Police closed 390 at Brooks behind us and were directing all traffic off the highway. A State Police officer started having cars entering at the exit turn around and drive the wrong way up 390 then turn off on the exit. We followed suit. It's the only time I've ever driven the wrong way on the highway. It was wild — it made me feel all sophisticated like I was driving on The M1 or something.

We decided to see what happened so we got back on at Mt. Hope but traffic ground to a halt around Scottsville Rd. Police were directing all traffic off the highway at that point as well, but we could see a multiple-car pileup — rubbernecking, we saw at least 6 cars involved. The hill formed by the new tunnel under the runway for the Scottsville Road access road had caused drifting snow to form a whiteout and had coated the road with snow. As it turned out, there were way more than 6 cars involved: 36 in all. As you've probably heard on the news, one young girl got killed and there were about 20 people taken to the hospitals with various degrees of injuries. The accident was apparently caused by a driver who stopped in the middle of the white-out.

People say the "cause" was the driver who stopped, but that was just the final straw. A whiteout totally sucks and there's no ideal solution. Initial wisdom says that if you can't see, stop, but it's also a highway, so you don't stop. Second best is to proceed slowly. In my opinion, that means very slowly compared to highway speeds (i.e. 20-30 miles-per-hour) but judging by the damage to cars, it appears that people scarcely took their foot off the accelerator and instead plowed into whatever was in front of them at full-bore. Then again, it was clear skies and dry roads right up to the bend, so only the properly attentive drivers even had a chance.

I also think it's interesting that nobody faults the airport. If it were a private residence and they had put up a privacy wall, they'd have hell to pay. But because the airport presumably wanted to extend a runway to accommodate larger planes, it's all good — dead girl and all. I'm not so much advocating suing the airport, but I'd like to see a fair assessment. Rather than let it slide with a passive-voiced "the conditions were dangerous," I think it's important to realize that prior to this construction project, this was not an issue. And as such, to determine if there is something that can be done to change the structure of the tunnel to prevent these kind of conditions from forming again.

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