• 46°

Truly happy to be here

The title of my column, “Happy to Be Here,” tells you how I feel about the Farmville community. Today, however, I’m reflecting on my gratitude for being alive. You see, instead of occupying my normal position here in The Herald’s lifestyles section, you almost had the opportunity to read about me in a front page story. It would have been accompanied by one of those horrific photos depicting the crumpled metal of an auto’s remains. This is what happened.

A couple weeks ago, I was driving down an area road. I’m not going to tell you which one, because I don’t want to imply that one is specifically more dangerous than another. This tale could have occurred on Routes 15, 20, 45, 307, or any number of other two-lane stretches of highway that traverse the rolling hills of our beautiful piedmont.

The day in question found me driving up a hill. There were no cars in front of me, none behind me and no visible opposing traffic — until I reached the hilltop and could see into the trough beyond it. I may have screamed, but it happened so fast I don’t remember.

Four cars were approaching in the left-hand lane, exactly where they belonged. My terror resulted from the fifth car. Apparently attempting to pass the others despite the double yellow line in the middle of the road, it headed straight at me. It had reached a point approximately half way between the third and fourth cars. There was insufficient space between them for it to scoot back into its own lane.

Instinct caused me to stomp on my brakes. My tires squealed, and my fingers clenched the steering wheel. An intensified awareness descended on me as time seemed to slow down. I noticed that the ground next to the road seemed fairly smooth. The moment my car slowed to a speed that I judged would handle the bump, I bounced off the road and onto the narrow strip of adjacent grass.

The opposing car sailed by. I felt shaken by its wind. A deep breath later, I navigated back onto the pavement and continued on my way.

I arrived at my destination to discover how wobbly my legs had become. What if’s flooded my brain and my hands started to shake. What if there had been a steep ditch next to the road? What if there had been a tree? What if there had been a group of children waiting for their school bus?

Then I wondered why. Why would someone attempt to pass in such a dangerous spot? Was a medical emergency involved? Was someone late for class or a meeting? Was it merely impatience?

I’ll never know why this particular incident occurred, but I have been able to calculate the amount of time the offending driver could have saved. The speed limit in that area was 55 mph. At that speed, it takes 60 minutes to drive 55 miles. This equals 1.09 minutes per mile — that’s about one minute and five and a half seconds. If the slower cars were traveling at 45 mph, 10 miles per hour under the speed limit, they would have traversed the same mile in 1.3 minutes — that’s about one minute and 20 seconds. Under these conditions, if the passing car had avoided following the slower cars for a full mile, it would have saved a grand total of 14.5 seconds. What about 10 miles? The saved time would still total less than two and a half minutes.

I can’t help wondering what circumstance made those few seconds, or even few minutes, worth the potential costs.

I’ve read a sufficient number of those dreadful front page stories to understand how lucky I was. My car and I are both intact. And, I hope to remain a happy, living resident of planet Earth. So, please, if you know people who have a tendency to cross the center line, either because they’re in a rush or just trying to straighten out the curves, ask them to slow down. The life you save may be mine. It may be someone else’s. It may even be yours.

Karen Bellenir has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.