Cooler Heads Prevailed

Sunday night, at midnight mind you, I decided to get a head start on the grilling season. If that seems like a peculiar time to begin grilling, you’ll find the appliance that I used to be quite unconventional, too.

I used the grille of my car.

Those of you who groaned at my pun should know that I am equally chagrined by the circumstances that provoked this word play.

I was heading westbound on the highway that connects the two flagships of this venerable two-town newspaper conglomerate, when I could see in the peep of my headlights’ beam an object in the road taking shape before me.

Normally, an obstruction wouldn’t present much of a problem. State Road 32 is a broad, two-lane highway with a smooth surface and ample berms on each side. The terrain is level and the course is straight, making it an ideal route to make time crossing the state.

I loved driving this stretch of road at night. Often at Sunday zero hour, I’d find myself to be the only vehicle on the road, alone to the hum of the tires and the drone of the thoughts running through my head.

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road,” Jack Kerouac would say. (On the Road, 1957)

But all has changed.

Nowadays, an increasing number of motorists are also discovering the highway as a means of avoiding the metropolitan snarl to the south. A disquieting volume of traffic can form on that road, even late at night.

Such was the case, Sunday.

Although not tightly formed, a train of oncoming traffic approached me from the west. Behind me the distinctive pattern of Jeep headlights shone brightly in my rear-view mirror, in alternating distances of “watch it buddy” to “Hey! Get off my … ”.

So, when the object in the road first broke into the gloaming, I knew I had one chance to make a decision, and it had to be right. If I went left, I was into the oncoming traffic. If I jammed on my brakes, the Jeep was into me. If I went right, I could spill into the ditch.

In the first millisecond, I concluded that the two-inch, thin white rectangular object was a plastic lid. In the next millisecond, I assessed that I would straddle the object, since the white lid seemed much narrower than my wheel base. In the third millisecond, the silhouette of a big red box still attached to the lid pierced the veil of darkness.

The person who suggested that making any decision is better than waiting at the fork in the road, never had to contend with a huge Coleman@ cooler.

I hoped that my front spoiler would deflect most of the debris away from my tires, and it did. However, the bulk of the cooler rolled under the spoiler, and was suctioned up into the front of the motor compartment.

My 4,780 pound SUV quickly dispelled any claims that Coleman™ might make about their coolers being indestructible, and the shards of plastic traveled the length of my car in a tintinnabulation of tinkling that a Chihuly chandelier might make when dropped from a six story building.

I am left, now, with driving a 1986 Dodge soccer Mom van, while my car is in the shop for a new radiator, fan, fan motor, and air conditioning condenser.

It could have been worse, I know. It could have been a refrigerator. I am grateful.

Nevertheless, I am left with a deep wondering whether I made the right decision … and this really odd craving for potato salad.

– John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media.