A former Mercury writer, Burk Krohe, once wrote an Off the Beat about his love of driving. I have to say, I understand the freedom of driving, but I’ve done it so much in my life that I have a love/hate relationship with it. I spent my teen years learning how to drive a 1989 Chevy Cavalier down K-18 highway to Manhattan so I could get out of Junction City for a few hours with friends. Later on, I would drive a 1996 Blazer back and forth on I-70 to visit my family while I attended KU. Then I traveled K-18 — sometimes three times a day — to go to school and work in Manhattan while living in J.C. Needless to say, I know the two main highways between here and my hometown like the back of my hand. I don’t drive the corridor as much as I used to (mainly because I don’t have to but also because the construction is a pain) but for some occasions, like family dinners and, most recently, Thanksgiving, I still travel that beaten path to my childhood home.
The memory that most resonates with me about driving is learning how to actually do it. My dad taught me how to drive, and one of the first things he told me was that I was driving a bullet going 70 miles per hour. I never forgot that. I think we have all witnessed crashes on the interstate before. We all cringe and try to look away, say a silent prayer that all involved are okay and take a small breath of thanks that fate gave us a pass. At least, that’s how I think about it.
On Thursday, after waiting two hours for a Thanksgiving paper filled with Black Friday ads, I made the trip back to my parent’s house with nothing but turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and ordering my new iPhone on my mind.
I was particularly excited about Thanksgiving this year because it was just going to be my parents and I. This meant that I didn’t have to talk about dull things like who I’m dating or how I’m doing or what life is like after college. I could chill on our couch, eat food and watch football, three of my favorite activities to do on Thanksgiving.
Around noon, I was speeding past Fort Riley into the home stretch of my trip. I noticed on the eastbound lane in the distance the familiar red and blue lights of fire trucks, police and ambulances. I groaned and thought to myself, “Oh God, a wreck? On Thanksgiving?”
Growing closer, I craned my neck to see the damage.
It was one car, a red Chevy pick-up. It had rolled off the side of the road and was perched in a tree. There were a lot of cars blocking the scene, but I did see one item that made my stomach turn: a tarp.
That means one thing and one thing only.
Someone died in the crash.
I finished my trip to my parents’ house without much excitement, but the scene of the crash somehow stuck with me throughout the day. I just kept thinking to myself that someone didn’t make it home on Thanksgiving and how awful that would be for their family. So, on a day that is about people taking stock of things they are thankful for, I guess I really was just happy that I have never not made it home.
I’ve had plenty of close calls. I got hit by a woman running a stop sign a few months ago.
But the one that sticks out for me actually occurred at the exit near Fort Riley as Thursday’s wreck. My tire blew out while I was going 70 miles an hour. I definitely appreciated my own mortality and luck in that situation.
On Friday, I found out that there had been two people in that truck I passed by, one of whom did not make it.
My condolences go out to the members of that family, because I know that was the last thing they expected and the last thing they wanted to hear on a day when loved ones traditionally gather.
I was especially thankful this year for a number of things: a good job, a healthy family and a place to live. But most of all, I was glad all of us were able to spend the holiday together, for some are not as lucky.