“The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive” – Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
I hung onto the wheel of my Kia Optima like the side of the last lifeboat launched off the Titanic. The snow wasn’t just coming down; it was coming up, creating a brown sludgy morass on Highway 70-East during the first major snowfall to hit the mountains near Vail, Colorado this season.
My snow-blind drive from Vail to Denver on Monday morning was less the trudge of Warren Beatty’s John Reed in Reds through the endless Russian winter and more the combination of Jack Nicholson’s homicidal pursuit of his son through the hedge maze in The Shining and the post-apocalyptic carnage of The Road Warrior. The mandatory tire chains on the 40-ton commercial big rigs were no match for the fickle hand of the snow lord, leading to a roadway strewn with dead mechanical mammoths. Nowhere to run.
It was there that I saw the burning hulk of one of these leviathans. The smoking carcass told the story of a man’s drive pushed too far. Though perhaps less glorious an end than that of Dale Earnhardt on his last lap of the Daytona 500, it was a glorious end in its own right: A working man pushing the envelope of “hard work” too far for the reward of a “job well done”, like Vinnie Jones’s tougher than tough character in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Too far this time turned into oblivion. Too far.
Four days after the good lord tested me on a trail named the “Wall”, a double black diamond on the Aspen Mountain ski slope, where one stupid mistake nearly proved fatal, he was testing my “smell more roses” resolve again—this time near Vail, looking down and laughing.
Is proving your mettle more important than your life? Will you keep driving into the white-out or will you stop, miss your meeting in Denver and surrender? I chose surrender. With my car skating out of control, I wrestled the two-wheel-drive Kia off the highway and into the parking lot of the appropriately named Loveland Ski Area. Defeated, but not dead.
Resigned to my “didn’t try hard enough fate”, I was prepared to walk to the Loveland lodge for some undeserved hot cocoa when I made a last desperate call to another road warrior—my friend, colleague and former boss Brian Stoffers, who was making the same trip as me in a vehicle far more formidable than a Kia Optima. As if the lord were looking out for me, Brian was only 10 miles away, snaking through the same snow-blind truck apocalypse as me. He ended up saving me from the indignity of defeat. I called the rental car company and told them to pick up the vehicle that tested me like 40 days and 40 nights in just 40 minutes.
To the driver of the truck who likely perished on the highway; I and all other real and wannabe road warriors salute you. Hard work is its own reward. But I would like all to know that the smell of roses is why we work hard and is a reward that needs to be paramount. The life of this ill-fated truck driver continues, but only in my dreams.