My wife and I and our two children normally go on vacation together each summer. There were two consecutive years however that my wife and daughter couldn’t travel because of conflicting schedules. We skipped vacation the first year but the following summer, I decided to travel with my son. He was fifteen at the time and I didn’t want him to miss too many more childhood vacations.
He wanted to go to California so we flew to Los Angeles. The plan was to spend three nights there and then drive down to San Diego to spend another three nights. We arrived in Los Angeles early in the morning and after checking into our hotel, we had several hours later in the day to do some sightseeing.
The pace of Los Angeles was a bit too hectic for the kind of relaxing vacation we wanted. I had been to San Diego once previously and had absolutely loved the city. I recommended to my son that we leave Los Angeles after that first night to spend the rest of the vacation there. He knew nothing about San Diego but from my description of it, he was excited. Before going there, I suggested that we make one other stop.
Santa Barbara is one of my favorite cities in America, and I wanted my son to see it. After breakfast the next morning, we left Los Angeles and made the approximately two-hour trip to Santa Barbara. We spent a few hours touring the city and walking along its beautiful beaches. We had a late lunch at a fine beachside restaurant before starting the drive to San Diego.
San Diego is just about 220 miles from Santa Barbara. In most parts of America, one could travel that distance by car in just over three hours. But California is no ordinary place. Traffic there can be downright atrocious. Because much of the driving had been at a snail’s pace, even after seven hours there was still no sign that we were close to our destination. We were both exhausted and quite irritated by then.
Then suddenly, I saw an exit sign for San Diego. The stretch of the highway we were on at that point had five or six lanes in the direction we were traveling. I happened to be in the second leftmost lane. To have any hope of taking the exit, I had to quickly maneuver across three lanes. I feared that there was not enough distance to safely accomplish that, but my tired mind had other ideas. The last thing I wanted to do then was to miss the exit and have to possibly travel another several miles before being rerouted.
My attempt was made even more dangerous by the fact that traffic had eased considerably on that stretch and most vehicles were traveling at exceedingly high speeds. Drivers were making up for lost time. I managed to get into the third lane from the left but as I was navigating into the next, through the passenger side mirror, I saw a vehicle traveling at what must have been over a hundred miles per hour. It was so close to ours that I had to make a sudden sharp correction back into my lane to avoid getting hit. Within seconds, the vehicle whizzed past us. The whole thing felt like a flash of lightning.
I was so shaken that I couldn’t utter a word the rest of the way. My son felt the sharp correction I made but he didn’t realize the grave danger I had put him in. Given the angle of our vehicle before the correction, and the speed at which the other driver was traveling, any impact would almost certainly have killed my son instantly. It is quite likely that I would have been killed also. We would both be dead, and thus wouldn’t have anything to worry about. But the question that kept running through my mind for the next hour or so was: what would become of the two women we had left back in Pennsylvania?
After that near-death experience, I naturally aborted the attempt to make it to that exit and patiently kept driving to the next one. We eventually arrived safely at our beautiful hotel that night. For the next four days, my son and I toured that charming city, spent a lot of time at several of its beautiful beaches, and ate at some of its finest restaurants. It was one of those father-son bonding experiences that neither of us will ever forget.
That highway incident happened over six years ago but I think about it periodically. Whenever it comes to mind, I feel incredibly lucky that my son and I escaped unhurt. Everything happened in a split-second, and the experience has taught me that there are invisible disasters lurking around us constantly. We are fortunate to avoid most of them without ever knowing how close we have come to calamity. That is something everyone should be thankful for.