Last summer Life’s Little Ironies took a road trip and drove along the flat, expansive, endless highways of Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. I remember one particular day. It was high noon. The air was as dry as dust and statically charged; the type that makes newspapers crackle as you leaf through its inky pages. The golden wheat was waving majestically in the fields as the sun beat down on the plumb-line straight highway in front of me, disappearing in a mirage of heat ray producing lapping lakes.
I tuned in to the local rock station and turned it up to a deafening crescendo upon hearing the first few bars, appropriate as it was, of Tom Petty
Into the great wide open
Under the skies of blue
Out in the great wide open
A rebel without a clue
In fact my sun roof was also wide open. The wind was rushing through my hair as my forehead collected beads of sweat, which paradoxically made me reach for the air-conditioning dial to achieve that perfect combination of heat and cold. Mechanically, my right foot pressed the pedal further to the floor. I passed 70, 80, 90 and (I hope no law enforcement official from Comanche County is reading this) 110 miles per hour. I could feel my cheeks buffeted by the winds and the adrenalin levels rising exponentially.
Nearing the end of the second verse the hitherto silent GPS burst in to voice and cutting in on Mr. Petty proffered this advice “The highway terminates in 5 miles” “Surely not” I muttered as I screwed my eyes towards the horizon that still conveyed the appearance of infinite pools of water, magically hovering over asphalt. I groped for my Rand McNally resting on my lap. I pulled it level with my eyes and, sure enough, the blue-veined Eisenhower-designated highway stretched unbroken all the way to the crease at the edge of the map. I sighed contentedly as I turned the map over and my eyes continued to track the thin blue line until, wait! It abruptly stopped. My index finger scratched at the white void where the highway marked line should be. “Must be a stain, or a misprint” I thought dismissively. These thoughts vanished immediately as the Heartbreakers gave way to Talking Heads
“We’re on the road to nowhere
We’re on the road to nowhere
We’ll take that ride.”
I love Talking Heads but the song jarred. “Road to nowhere? We’re going somewhere, aren’t we?”
The song faded only to be replaced by one of those impossibly smooth tongued DJ’s who proceeded to update his paltry audience with the latest weather and traffic every 10 minutes. He had repeated the same mantra for the past three weeks. “Hot’n’sunny with a passin’ stray cloud’. The traffic update was much the same. All main highways were running freely with no hold ups. My mind was beginning to wandering but as he signed off I thought I heard him say the highway was coming to an end. This jolted me back into consciousness. I raised the Ray Bans above my eyes brows and peered again towards the horizon. It was slightly gloomier now as that stray cloud had passed between me and the sun and seemed to cling doggedly to the yellow disc in the sky, preventing it from peeking through. I angrily jabbed at the radio station buttons and alighted on the gravelly tones of Chris Rea
“This ain’t no upwardly mobile freeway
Oh no, this is the road to Hell”
This time I hit the Off button and squeezed the throttle just a little more. Now, I don’t know about you but I still was not convinced about the end of the freeway. It’s true that the Sat Nav had alerted me and increasingly aggressively so, but they are notoriously unreliable especially out it the wilds of Kansas. Indeed, the map seemed to corroborate the GPS but it was more likely the map was just plain out of date and the freeway had been competed many moons ago. As for local radio station jockeys, who knows what they have been smoking! I looked at my passengers for reassurance but they seemed tense, rigid, wide-eyed and sweaty. I turned my gaze back to the road but, too late, I saw a red and white boarded road sign with the words “End of Road” undemonstratively, but neatly, painted. As I smashed through the barrier and sailed through the air I grumbled a little as to why the sign writer had not painted the words somewhat larger or at least added an exclamation mark. It was certainly an anti-climactic way to forewarn the termination of the tarmac.
Once in this predicament, dear reader, one’s options are limited. Applying the brakes to slow the descent has a marginal effect, if any, and placing the gear lever in to reverse has even fewer merits even though I affected to do both in order to show I was at least doing something. Shrieking is another way of passing your time as the cool blue azure water at the bottom of the ravine comes into sharp focus as well as the incongruous salmon-colored boulders that litter the water ways in the Wild West. It sure was a pretty, colorful palette
For most people, counting down their last few seconds of mortality, they say their life flashes before their eyes. For me, I savored the metaphorical juxtaposition between my careering towards a rocky ruination and the climate change debate. To wit, as a global community we are informed of evidence that points to anthropogenic (man-made) influences of global warning. We calculate the extent; we can model it thousands of times in labs using the biggest computers and brightest scientists. Statistics spew from their spreadsheets indicating a 2-3.6C warming of the planet in the next 100 years and a 70cm – 90cm rise in sea levels in the same period with all its catastrophic impacts on crops, disease, erosion and clean water sources. We look outside our windows and switch on TV’s and see evidence of smoggy, polluted cities, extreme weather patterns, melting ice caps and flooded deltas. Yet for all this, we are not entirely convinced of these inconvenient factoids enough to let up the accelerator pedal just a tad let alone brake and turnaround. No, we pin our hopes on our vain glorious ability to stop as soon as we read the red and white painted sign or, at the very least, hope that someone else is driving when we come to the end of the global warming highway.
 IPCC Special Report on Emission Studies