It only takes a Charles Dickens moment to realize you are face to face with one of his spirits as you speed down U.S. Highway 395.
This road haunts many of us as we frequently journey from the north country. I’ve seen my life flash by like Scrooge did as he pleaded with his ghosts for some small measure of hope. I’m OK now. I made it home tonight. “Coffin Corner” in Deer Park was eerily quiet. With attentive ears, I heard a road spirit whisper to me, “You may pass.”
Problem is, this is not a fictional tale to encourage and inspire. The story for many ends with sirens, skid marks, flashing lights and images that we carry and wish we would never have seen.
So those of us in Stevens County wanting to access anything in Spokane must conquer our demons before entering into this abyss, or else just stay in our quaint, quiet hamlets forever.
I call Chewelah, Washington, home. Traveling on U.S. 395 I have been “raged” more than I can count, forced off the road by a chipper truck, flashed by high-beam headlights and hit animals on the endangered list. Once a poor soul from Jump Off Joe, lying broken in St. Joseph’s Hospital, said to me that he had “just turned onto 395 and was gunning it to clean the gravel off his snow tires when he suddenly completed a doughnut.” Bingo! Into the ambulance.
Ambulances stalk the highway like the fighter jets over Mideast targets circling for hours until they are uploaded a target. There’s job security for EMTs, if you are looking for a career. This is what’s going on north of you, Spokane, and it ain’t pretty.
Now we get to try roundabouts in Deer Park as opposed to traffic lights. Thank you, but no. With my luck, I’ll probably hit the same deer over and over in one of those labyrinths. I want traffic lights if there must be some solution.
And yes, something must be done. So many northerners are seeing lives ended or changed forever by this highway nightmare. Angry drivers passing chaotically, timid drivers going 40 mph like that’s going to make their trip safe, odd gang signs being flashed from pickups with darkened windows. Do you remember the random shots fired by some deranged driver on 395? Come on!
I am always so relieved to see a police car anywhere, hoping they’ll catch the next danger zooming by me. Yet nothing has calmed this road to date. Yes, 395 needs more left-turn lanes, etc., and this will happen after the North-South freeway is finished? Yes, it will be done after the next ice age.
Meanwhile, I will stay here in town and bide my time. Shop Safeway and hope for McDonald’s to come back. They actually closed and tore down that great little fast food stop on 395; too dangerous entering and exiting for a burger. This highway is so mean Taylor Swift wouldn’t even write a song about it.
So get in that rig of yours. Buckle up, put your hockey helmet on and be nice on your next trip to the big city. When you arrive at that first stoplight in Spokane and see all those white-knuckled drivers who passed you 20 minutes ago now idling beside you, don’t make eye contact. Stay on the sunny side. Smile and be like Scrooge transformed by his visitations. The life you save may be your own.
Edward Grim is a retired librarian who lives in Chewelah.
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