I went up to Placerville, CA, to attend my nephew’s wedding, taking Amtrak to Sacramento from San Jose, dropping my bags off at my father’s place in North Highland, and going in his truck on the 50. As we approached Dolardo Hills on the 50, traffic crawled to a standstill with four lanes funneled into one lane. We both suspected that a bureaucrat for Caltrans had nothing better to do than fouling up traffic for a day.
On the day before Thanksgiving (the busiest travel day of the year) in 1997, Caltrans did some road work at the 580/I-5 intersection that snarled traffic from the San Francisco Bay Area into the Central Valley. It took us five hours to travel two miles. That afternoon was also unseasonably warm. Nothing pisses off Californians than being stuck in an unnecessary traffic jam in hot weather.
While trapped on the 50, we watched the idiots around us: cars drove backwards or turned around on the shoulder to return to the nearest ramp, other cars merged to the right because the lane opened up and merged back into their former lane a few miles later, and the drivers of SUV’s exercised their God-given right to muscle their way into lane changes.
And, for no obvious reason as to the cause of the crash, we broke free of the traffic jam.
We arrived at the Sequoia Mansion about 90 minutes late, missing the wedding ceremony at the cemetery across the street, and arriving just in time for the reception dinner (which suited my father just fine). When my older cousin got married in the Catholic Church in the early 1980’s, I got sick to my stomach from all the standing up and sitting down that the minister made us do. My father was more than happy to take me outside for some fresh air and wait in the car. We come from a redneck family that prefers simple—almost always shotgun—weddings that doesn’t get in the way of the reception.
I found out that my nephew’s grandfather on his mother side of the family passed away the week before in Nevada. He took his car in for an oil change, walked across the street to get a cup of coffee at the casino, and dropped dead in the street for no apparent reason. My uncle on my mother’s side of the family passed away three months ago from lung cancer after spending a lifetime smoking like a chimney.
I felt old dancing with my niece even though she six years younger than me, and her resemblance to my mother, who died from breast cancer in 2004, was unnerving. Seeing my brother and his ex-wife dancing together was an interesting sight to behold, as their divorce after eight years of marriage was a colossal mess.
As for the freeway mess, a FedEx truck had crashed at 5:00AM that morning, spilling diesel fuel that caught on fire to melt the surrounding asphalt and burn an acre of grass. The truck also carried 600 one-gallon containers of pesticide. All four lanes weren’t reopened until 3:00AM the next morning after cleaning up the toxic mess and re-paving the damaged lanes.