Interstate Love Song
Laura Anders Lee continues to commute to work on I-4 and lives to drive another day.
Valentine’s Day might be this month, but you’d never know it on Interstate 4 with all the horn honking and road rage. It’s time to put on the brakes and examine our relationship.
We have more than 2 million residents in metro Orlando, along with 66 million visitors annually who hit the roads at some point. I-4 runs past three of the busiest malls in America, plus Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal. Roller coaster enthusiasts pay the big bucks to go zero to 60 in seconds, while I-4 takes you from 60 to zero in a flash. The I-4 Ultimate road construction only adds more obstacles, making us the players in a dangerous, real-life video game.
Traffic patterns are a mystery, with backups extending beyond rush hour. Somewhere around Sand Lake Road and I-4 is the Bermuda Triangle of traffic. You’ll sit idle for 30 minutes until the cars in front of you suddenly accelerate with no sign of an incident. Even worse is sitting in traffic only to see that the accident is on the opposite side of the freeway. Rubberneckers and Lookie Lous are stealing minutes of my life one commute at a time.
Drivers are so bored plodding along on I-4, they will do anything to entertain themselves. I once saw a man reading a novel propped on his steering wheel, and then there’s the incessant texting while driving. I don’t text and drive, but I will sometimes dictate to Siri, who never understands my Alabama accent. Once, Siri turned “as well’’ into “get laid’’ and “for sure’’ into “fart.’’ It’s definitely no safer to proofread and drive, so I’ve traded Siri for audio books, thanks to the free Overdrive app from the library.
I’ve certainly had my share of misfortune on I-4. Once, on my way to work, I ran over an oversized plastic container that got wedged under my car, scraping the pavement like fingernails on a chalkboard. I pulled over and got down on my hands and knees, beside shards of glass from a busted Fireball whisky bottle. For the life of me, I could not pry the container out, and judging by the speed of the cars whizzing past my head, nobody was going to stop and help me. After sweat, tears and more exertion than I had planned for in my business-casual attire, I finally got it loose.
One day while I was driving west (but it’s really south) from the Orlando Science Center, my son, then 3, had to use the bathroom. Traffic was crawling, there was no place to pull over, and the poor guy just peed in the car, into every crevice of his Batman car seat. (Don’t get me started on his older brother who throws up every time we’re on the 417.)
Husbands in the passenger seat are just as distracting as children. Nothing ruins a perfectly good date night like missing an exit or someone hogging the left lane—both criminal acts in my husband’s eyes.
Behind the steering wheel, we all become the most selfish person in the world. We must get to work faster than anyone else, must get our kids to school first—because our time is worth more. We cut each other off, fly on by when we know the lane is merging and mouth profanities even when there’s a “Baby on Board.” We hide behind our windshields like we hide behind our Twitter handles, becoming the worst versions of ourselves. But we are neither invisible nor invincible on I-4.
One busy afternoon driving home I rear-ended an SUV. I cursed myself for being so stupid, and I followed the car to the shoulder. The driver got out and, from his monogrammed polo, I could see he was a teacher at a local magnet school. He examined the damage, and seeing none, he shrugged. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s nothing—could happen to anyone. Have a great day!”
A few months down the road, I paid his kindness forward to a woman who rear-ended me. She damaged my car, but she was visibly shaken and the front end of her Honda was smashed. I calmed her down and helped her pull over to a safe spot—it was an accident, after all. A friendly Road Ranger with I-4 Ultimate stopped to help and stayed with us until police came.
The Florida Department of Transportation is deeply invested in making I-4 better. So maybe it’s time we drivers start improving, too. Forgive more. Tailgate and rubberneck less. Put the phones down and pull over to lend a helping hand. And for the sake of my next date night, please stay out of the left lane.