Being Slow means that you control the rhythms of your own life. ~ Carlo Petrini, Slow Food Founder
As life lessons go, a car wreck on a highway notorious for its fatalities is perhaps among the most life-altering. Even before a speeding sedan and concrete highway divider interrupted what started out as a normal morning’s drive home from an overnight in Miami, I was feeling a nagging desire to control the rhythms of my life better. I will be 75 this fall, an age when many of my peers are busy checking exotic destinations off their bucket list. I wanted exactly the opposite: to travel less, be more selective about how and with whom I spent time. Now, I would perforce have that opportunity.
Almost every day the local paper brings a grim reminder of how fortunate we were that Sunday morning: the airbags deployed, the seat belts prevented head injuries, we were both healthy and fit, and a trio of young people, heading home to Georgia, pulled over to gently assist two injured and confused old people from their wrecked Honda Civic, and call 911. Whiplash is a nasty, nagging injury, and a broken collarbone disabling. But we could and did recover. “You’re lucky,” the ER staff kept saying as they took vital signs, hooked up the IV, ordered X-Rays, a CAT scan. At the end of that day in a noisy, crowded ER, we got to go home, with a sling for my arm and pain prescription.
Impossible to imagine how we would have gotten through the first weeks without the help of our adult children and many generous friends. Police reports and insurance paperwork, dealing with a junked car, wait for no one. Prepared meals, groceries, laundry, a ride to the orthopedic center, were all cheerfully provided so we didn’t need to drive until we were ready. Never, I remember thinking at a low point. Is never soon enough? With little discussion, we decided against replacing the Honda, and turned down the rental to which our insurance policy entitled us. For at least a month, while I took a leave of absence from my yoga teaching and my spouse from his gig, playing piano at a retirement community, we were living the ultimate slow down mantra from my yoga teacher’s handbook, ‘no place to go, nothing to do.’ And puttering around the house, taking naps whenever, felt strange for a pair who preached the gospel of ‘when you rest, you rust,’ who had made ‘retiring retirement’ their later life mission (and small business). “Wait,” said one of our older grandsons, “you mean the 2young2retire people are … retiring?”
We are still not the retiring kind, but some adjustments in how we live were necessary. The accident turned us into that rare household in our condo community with a single car, a leased Nissan Leaf plugin with a range of 80 miles under ideal conditions — 45 mph, no AC. Most people don’t roam much further in a day and neither did we. But that range wasn’t going to work for the long road trip we had been planning this summer. It wouldn’t even get us to Green Cay, a favorite birding wetland, or to Miami, even if we took back roads and stuck to the 45 mph limit. Now was the time to try TriRail for a lunch date in Delray Beach: 25 minutes from station to station, a five minute free trolley ride to Atlantic Avenue. Why more people don’t use this affordable, clean, reliable North-South transportation in lieu of the multi-lane nightmare that has become I-95, is a mystery. Why more people who have the time, or can make the time, don’t take a page from William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways and really see America, is another puzzlement. I could be wrong about this, of course. But my small sample of perennially jammed multilaners and sparsely-traveled rural routes suggest otherwise.
Recently, on a trip to the Northeast for a graduation, milestone birthdays, and a wedding, we decided to stay off the interstates see what the back roads were really like in five different states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. For this, we acquired an old-fashioned paper map and although, alas, the roads are no longer blue highways, they meander and wind pleasurably, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to brake for u-pick strawberries, lemonade stands, and out-of-the-way diners. Although Least Heat Moon and Charles Kuralt are no longer practicing the art of the slow road, there remain lots of small towns where time seems to stand still, and it seems to me the locals are good with that.
Around lunch time one day, we found ourselves on Route 13 just over the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. At Milford, where we would pick up 101, we passed a small free-standing building with a verandah and a packed parking lot. A U-turn brought us back to Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen, where at barely noon, there was a line almost out the door, luckily most of it for take-out. The people behind the counter were friendly and clearly, this is a neighborhood destination for working folks including uniformed first responders. The menu includes fried pickles, a burger recipe that includes ground salami, and perhaps in deference to their visitors from Canada, poutine: French fries topped with curds and gravy. It was Friday, Fish Fry Day, featuring the best fried haddock sandwich we’ve tasted to date. I didn’t notice whether there were 2 or more calendars on the wall — Least Heat Moon’s marker for excellent roadside food — but this is exactly the kind of experience that restores one’s faith in the goodness of ordinary people carrying on, and we could certainly use that about now. If you’re ever in the area, stop by and see for yourself or go find a humble kitchen of your own to brag about.
Sprawl is getting worse in my adopted state, despite the obvious risks from rising seas to property and personal safety, and with that comes more congested highways, more frantic, multi-tasking, speeding drivers, more accidents. Our own brush with disaster six months ago made us hunger for a different, more human rhythm to our days. So far, so good.
Recommend: Rand McNally Easy to Read New England
Fans of the original book, check out Blue Highways Revisited