On Aug. 25, 2013, HBO aired an episode of “The Newsroom,” titled “Red Team III.” In its third act, Will McAvoy recounts to the team of Atlantis Cable News’ defense attorneys about various historical figures and events: Claudette Colvin, Guiseppe Zangara and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He caps off each tale with “what if” scenarios revolving around how if one or a few tiny variables changed, then it would have a colossal knock-on effect on the trajectory of the United States.
I mention this, because I sometimes ponder the night of Sept. 9, 2017, and how a misplaced headset, a Sheetz cup of coffee, drowsiness and a Virginia state trooper prevented me from smashing into either a deer or guardrails.
One night in Virginia
About an hour earlier, I wrapped up my coverage of the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. Kyle Larson took the checkered flag and set the field for the playoffs. That was after, of course, I went back up to the press box to retrieve a Racing Electronic headset that I accidentally left up there, came back down and found the door to the infield pedestrian tunnel padlocked. Thus, I walked around the Turns 1 and 2 grandstands to the infield vehicle tunnel on the backstretch.
At this point, I’m roughly 30 minutes from the interchange where Interstate 64 merges with I-81. At this point, I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours straight and had another two hours of driving to get to my Airbnb in Roanoke, Virginia. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim (can you tell I like “Hotel California?”). So I stopped at a Sheetz for coffee.
Fast forward roughly 20 minutes later, I cruise down I-64, barely awake. A woman in a white jeep flashes her brights to signal she wants to pass. So I shift over to the outer lane and she speeds by me.
Now if you’ve ever driven down I-64 going to or from Richmond, you’ll know how the Virginia State Police loves to hide its cars in between the giant trees that separate I-64’s east and westbound lanes. Sure enough, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a black-hooded Ford Taurus. A few seconds later, I see red and blue lights flash in my rear-view mirror. Thinking it’s for me, I flip my turn signal and prepare to pull over. As my foot hovers over the brake pedal, however, it zooms by my car and pulls over the white jeep.
I breathed a sigh of relief and kept driving. Thankful I wouldn’t have to call my parents in the middle of the night to explain why I was pulled over and got a ticket in Central Virginia.
Shake hands with danger
Roughly a minute later, I’m about a mile from the interchange. As I round a turn, I spot a deer in the middle of the road. My eyes widen and I scream, “Oh shit!” I yank the wheel to the right and avoided the deer, but now my 2013 Ford Fusion’s pointed at a guardrail. So I jerk the wheel to the left and spin out. All the while, thinking, “Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!”
Eventually, my car stops.
My hands trembled and I was breathing heavily. Once it occurred to me the car was motionless, I breathed another sigh of relief. Then my relief turned to terror when I realized I was on the road, sideways. With the driver’s side facing the direction of oncoming traffic. So then I slowly turned towards the window.
Not another car in sight.
Promptly, I pulled off the road and onto the shoulder, hopped out and circled the car. I spotted no damage and no flat spots on the tires. Satisfied nothing was wrong, I got back in and drove away.
Piecing the puzzle
It wasn’t until a year or two ago that I thought back on the night and realized the chain of events that both put me in and avoided a greater mess. The time I lost retrieving my headset, the cup of Sheetz coffee, the woman in the white jeep and the happenstance of the presence of a state trooper.
All of it coalesced into placing me in that exact moment of spacetime.
Change any one of these variables even slightly, and I’m either not in that position at all, or I or the white jeep plow into a deer or guardrail.
Maybe it’s only interesting to me, but those kind of minute details fascinate me.
Talk about tales from the beat.