An Incident on Highway 31

  • It took three-and-a-half miles for my anger to soften. We’d worked hard to leave on-time: snacks, coffee, and water, already loaded in the van; the boys dressed early; the baby fed.

But then Arthur dropped his cheesy puffs as we drove down Highway 31, and we still had twenty-five minutes left to drive. No big deal. I turned onto a side street and hit the hazard lights. He unbuckled, got in the floor, got back in his seat and buckled again. No substantial time was lost. But before we’d even fully turned back around, Arthur announced that he’d forgotten his snack; he’d picked up a couple of toys, instead. So now I’m stopping again—still not too big of a deal—a minor irritation. That is, until two vehicles managed to slip by us.

The first was turning left. Traffic rarely lightens at certain times on Highway 31 in Spring Hill, so with this being a Sunday morning, the car in front had to wait a long time for an opening. I could feel the clock ticking now. It seems churches are always either starting services or letting them out at all hours on a Sunday morning, and for a town no bigger than Spring Hill, there are an unseemly amount of churches. A high concentration of churches in a suburb of Nashville is no surprise, I must admit, but why must they stagger their beginning and ending times in such a way? I know I’m being unreasonable; you don’t have to tell me. Certainly churches don’t consider their effect on local traffic when planning services.

Anyway, we were trying to get to our own church. And finally that first car had managed its left turn. But here’s the kicker. The other vehicle in front of us—the one standing between us and punctuality—was a pickup truck loaded down with junk, and when it pulled onto the highway, it refused to accelerate above thirty miles-per-hour. We were stuck behind it, with no chance of passing, for two whole miles. (Okay, seeing this in print makes me feel really petty. But at the time, I was enraged.) I had made a serious effort to get us out the door with as little stress as possible, to get us to church without feeling rushed, and now it was all for nothing. I began wondering why God didn’t help us out—why he didn’t honor my noble effort, thinking that if he really wanted us in church, he would’ve prevented some of these obstacles. Such is the occasional pettiness of the human mind.

Some would blame these obstacles on the devil. But I think that’s a not-so-clever way to excuse ourselves from responsibility—the responsibility of realizing that the movements of the world aren’t tailored to our egos; that the schedules of the thousands of other residents of Spring Hill are not designed with my need for efficiency in mind. It’s the price of the free will we so adore. Just as I was free to stop our van so my son could pick up his snack, the two motorists who stalled our progress were free to drive up that same street at the exact time that they did, passing us by with our hazards flashing. No one was in the wrong; no one was an instrument of either divine or evil will. It was just a thing that happened in a world that keeps moving, whether we’re ready or not.

Isolation + Convenience = Art

IMG_3578Saturn Parkway feels isolated, even with cars, even during the morning clamor and hustle for lane position beyond the Port Royal merge: commuter frenzy and misplaced rage; Dodge Chargers riding bumpers and Honda Civics with custom exhaust systems buzz-whining from your blindspot like cranky string trimmers; the feeling that no one sees the beauty of the growing light, soft in the treetops: everyone is sequestered in their rolling, windowed cocoons, looking at phones, eating breakfast–angry-seeming, hostile, indifferent, closed-off. I have to ignore the indifference and rage, or else my equanimity erodes–my sense of worldly equilibrium and mental poise; I feel my own rage swell. Pointless. How do people stand it?

But the isolation, I like. It’s false, of course–tens of thousands of people live in Spring Hill–IMG_3579but out on the nearby highways the feeling is there. Saturn Parkway and Highway 840, the two four-lane belts stretched tight across lower Williamson and upper Maury counties and forming the northern and southern perimeters of Thompson’s Station and Spring Hill, are bordered by trees and fields. Broad, shallow-sweeping hills hide the stacked and jagged subdivisions of new and newer construction; a great herd of cattle–Black Angus, presumably–snuff lazily along majestic, Middle Tennessee pastureland, idle as the sun, less than a mile from where construction cannot match demand. Driving into the area, one may not realize that they enter a place where population has outstripped infrastructure, where roads do not accommodate traffic.

The isolation may be false, but its effect on the mind is not. Yet it’s a tricky thing–we Spring Hillians have the option, while driving home from work, to either dwell on this imaginary isolation or remind ourselves that civilization lies just beyond the trees. I doubt that many people think about this at all, actually. I’m a weirdo that has to have a slant way of seeing things, an ethereal territory on which to plant my mind, or else a place will never be a real place for me. When we moved from Nashville’s urbs to its suburbs, I needed to find something about Spring Hill in which to root my imagination–a milieu of my own. Nashville was rich with it; stories dripped from every brick. But what did Spring Hill have? So far I’ve landed on isolation, albeit an isolation with modern conveniences. And isolation can be a welcome thing for an artist.

I wonder what other territories Spring Hill will present. Meanwhile, we’re building one of our own with flowers, trees, and playground equipment. And I’m wallowing in artistic isolation, which is the good kind.

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