Bernie put the van in motion and off we went, again. Righteous, the flame of his anger lighting the way, Bernie drove the entire distance back to his parents' home. Ha ha! Just kidding. Bernie drove about 40 minutes, announced he was too tired and would I mind driving as I said I would?
After Bernie and George blessedly passed-out, the late-night drive through the darkened, tranquil, beautiful New York countryside was the peace and quiet I so longed for. It was the highlight of the entire trip. We still managed to arrive at Bernie's parents' house in the pre-dawn hours, a little later than planned but not that far off schedule.
We slept, got up, ate and hit the road. Everyone was back to normal, even in a good mood to be going home. I thought I'd never hear the end of wrecking Bernie's van, but in the light of a new day Bernie was forgiving. Aside from a stray comment about how many hours it would take to patch that crease (about eight), there wasn't much about it. Bernie even revealed that the damn thing was full of body puttyhow else could it look so good? Sigh. I felt better.
Hours passed, the drive wore on. We graduated from the picturesque two lane roads to larger highways, then interstates. It was a hot day. The non-airconditioned van became more uncomfortable with every mile. We were in densely packed, fast-moving traffic on New Jersey's Garden State Parkway. Things seemed relatively organized considering how fast everyone was driving, as if there was a collective agreement not to cause trouble on such a hot, crowded road.
Except for one car. A lady driving a black, compact BMW came into our rear view mirror, driving VERY fast, maniacally weaving in and out of traffic. She seemed so on the verge of losing control other drivers were clearing out of her way, as if she was the plague on wheels. But the road was so crowded, even her desperate technique didn't enable her to better her position. We couldn't lose herno matter how hard we tried. She was behind us, then in front, then a few miles and she'd be in our rear view mirror again. She was like a bad dream. We would have thought it funny except the danger was so real. Still, we watched her careening about with a kind of morbid fascination, noticing she had a child in a car seat by her side.
She was about three cars in front of the van, in the lane to our left. She made an aggressive move to the right, but there was a car in the space. At the last moment she saw the car and spastically jerked back, avoiding contact by the barest possible margin. But in her surprised, violent reaction she finally, irrevocably lost control of the BMW.
The speeding car began to fishtail, the tires screeching and smoking against the asphalt. Immediately, instinctively, everyone retreated, space opened up on all sides. But it was too late. Still moving at extreme speed, she struggled to maneuver the skidding car to the left. She was trying to negotiate the car out of traffic and into a left-side construction lane. Incredibly, she made it into the narrow lane, which was lined with the familiar concrete barriers called appropriately enough, "Jersey Wall." It seemed as if the tense, ignorant drama was about to end, and in fact, it did. With a dull-sounding crunch, the BMW crashed rudely into the immovable concrete.
The stilled, expensive sedan was badly damaged. As we sped by, relieved and even a little amused, the lady was outside the car, hands to her head, yelling. The scene receded in our rear windows. Four hours from home and counting, I stole a final look at the woman, cursing, kicking the tires of the still-smoking BMW.