It’s raining. Hard rain. Old Testament rain. I’m driving and I cannot hear my truck radio over the roaring water on my windshield.
This is what our local meteorologists calls “overcast with 10 percent chance of some precipitation.”
This is definitely “some precipitation.” This is what we in West Florida call a frog choker.
I am wearing my nautical-yellow rain slicker. Water drips from my hat brim like someone recently emptied a mop bucket onto my head.
My dog sits in the passenger seat beside me. Her head follows the windshield wipers. Left. Right. Left… I don’t know how she doesn’t pull a neck muscle.
We are caught in a ridiculous traffic jam. There is a major gas shortage in Florida, which is causing a gasoline panic. Everyone is hitting the highways in search of filling stations, draining the gasoline supply.
All our local gas stations have gone belly up. I’ve tried six different stations this morning. Bupkis.
Throw in “some precipitation,” and you get the slowest moving gridlock known to civilized man.
In traffic like this it will take me 14 hours to get to the supermarket; 23 hours to get to the post office; and I might as well forget going to PetSmart. Which is where I was going.
Now traffic is moving again. Hallelujah. I’m driving at a pretty good clip when suddenly…
I slam my brakes.
Tires screech. My truck fishtails.
There is a guy is running across the highway in front of me. And I’m caught in a skid, braced for ultimate disaster.
The young man is holding up both hands, screaming at traffic. I can read his lips. “Stop!”
Thank God my truck does.
The kid jogs across a slick highway, through the booming rain. Cars slide to a halt. This boy is out of his mind, he just came scarily close to becoming a full-time harp player.
Car horns blare behind me. All-weather Goodyears squealing. Rain is pounding on pavement. These are the sounds that form the prelude chorus to manslaughter.
What is this kid thinking? What is he doing? So I slap on my hazards. I am now parked in the middle of a busy highway, praying that no vehicles ram their speeding masses of Dearborn steel up my tailgate.
The vehicle in the lane beside me stops, too—a newish Dodge Ram 1500. A truck that costs more than my house.
The Dodge screeches to a standstill and does the same thing I’m doing: hazards blinking. Dodge Guy hops out of his truck to see what’s wrong.
I hop out of my vehicle, too. I don’t exactly know what I plan on doing, but the young guy is standing in the middle of the road about to get hit. So I figure I should do something.
It’s raining so hard I can’t see. Some precipitation.
Dodge Guy and I are both shouting to the kid, “Are you okay?” and “Get outta the road!” and “You’re gonna get killed out here!”
Then we see it. Through the driving Florida rain, the young man stoops to pick up an animal on the highway. A dog. I see a tail wagging.
There is white on the snout of the animal. And even through the downpour I can see that the geriatric dog is terrified.
The young man on the highway shouts and there is adrenaline in his voice. “She got off leash and ran into traffic! She’s old! She gets confused!”
The rain is so loud I can hardly hear his words.
Dodge Guy shouts, “Is she hurt?”
The boy cups a hand to his mouth. “No! Thank God! All good!” Then the kid gives us the Greg Brady thumbs-up and rushes off the highway.
Dodge Guy looks at me. We both exchange looks of disbelief. Something very bad almost happened here today, but it didn’t. This is what you call Providence.
Horns are trumpeting behind us. About 49,259 aggravated morning motorists are in such a hurry that if we don’t get out of their way, there is going to be a double hanging.
Dodge Guy shouts to me. “That kid’s an idiot! Almost got himself killed!” He’s infuriated. He leaps into his truck and throws the gear shift on his luxury yacht and disappears. He probably bought the undercoating too.
I crawl into my truck, manufactured during the Clinton Administration, duct tape on the passenger door. I flip off my hazards, pull in a deep breath.
My hands are trembling. My stomach is acid. My interior is soaked. I could have accidentally careened into that kid. Both our lives would’ve been changed forever.
My dog is looking at me intently.
Before I drive away I see the kid on the highway shoulder, holding his animal, cradling it like a child against his chest, kissing the dog’s muzzle. Rain pelts him but he doesn’t care. This image sticks with me.
When I get to the gas station, I purchase the last few drops of gasoline found in Florida. And I’m still shaking.
All of a sudden I have this overwhelming urge to hold my dog tightly against my wet rain jacket and breathe in the smell of her wet fur. I should be upset with that kid. I should be mad about what just happened. I should be infuriated like the guy in the Dodge.
But all I can think about is how l would have done the same thing if it were my dog.