Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Pass

We are still doing the three person, two car tango and on Saturday Oldest son had to work, my wife had to work and I had a commitment at a church picnic grilling hotdogs. Oldest son got the small car and I took my wife to work in the morning.

Of course that meant I had to pick my wife up at the hospital at 6. I took the two lane black top road that lead to the divided state highway when I got behind a late model Hyundai. The car was black and I just know the silver haired driver traded in a Buick or better yet and Oldsmobile for it.

He's doing 32 1/2 in a 40 and it's double yellow line territory.

We make a couple of stop lights together, slowly and I'm growing tired of watch the ETA on the GPS increase. I need to pass and finally I get a dashed yellow but there is traffic. After what seems like a lifetime, I get both a dashed yellow and no traffic and I pass him.

As I'm passing him, I'm thinking "When was the last time I did an real pass?", you know one that wasn't around some farm equipment moving 15 MPH pulled all the way to the right just begging you to pass them.

A pass used to be a right of passage for becoming a man and was an art form I learned from both my Father and Grandfather. Theoretically, a pass could be performed on any two lane road with the proper markings, but I recall that most passes happened while driving to vacation and mostly on vacation to the Jersey shore.

Before the days of the Atlantic City expressway and the Garden State Parkway, there were the two laned black top roads with names like the Delsea Drive, Black Horse Pike and White Horse Pike. These were typical "state" roads of the day with two lanes of road playing connect the dots with every farm town between Camden and the shore points. They had developed as indian paths and weren't much more except for modern concrete, poured in slabs.

If you got behind someone slow between towns, there was only one thing to do - pass them. If you got behind a long line of cars - it just meant a longer pass.

My family traveled almost exclusively to Wildwood, NJ every summer along these roads and the men would take pride in how short a time they could travel the 90 miles from the Philly area across a bridge and down to the shore. Once they arrived that was all the men talked about for the first couple of hours of vacation: how quickly they made the trip. My Uncle Buddy once claimed he made the trip in 90 minutes using his secret "deer woods" route. Since Aunt Rita was the only witness, this record time remained unverified and unofficial.

When O was eight I traveled to Wildwood with my grandparents a week a head of my family. I guess it was to give my Mother a break from three boys under the age of 8 and so I made the trip from South Philadelphia to Wildwood, NJ with my Grandparents, Sam and Josie in their 1962 Dodge 880.

Sam didn't finesse the trip with exotic routes, he had more of brute force strategy: take the direct Delsea drive, drive as fast as you could without getting a ticket and pass as many cars as possible.

It was a thrilling way to start a vacation.

The Dodge didn't have Air Conditioning and so having the windows fully down only added to the sense of reckless speed. I would spend most of the trip unbuckled, with my arm out the rear passenger side window, my hand making an airplane wing as Sam passed long lines of cars. (Today if you saw some kid doing this, the parents would be arrested and spend time where a pack of Marlboughs is currency )

My Grandmother hated every single second of every pass. Later, I figured out this was because:

1. She had never driven in her life.

2. Because the car was wider than the Mississippi, she couldn't see the oncoming traffic until the huge Dodge was fully in the opposite lane.

3. She wasn't interested in going fast.

This did not stop Sam.

With each car we would pass, the air pressure would change dramatically and would make a Whooomp sound inside the opened windowed car. The tires would make a clack-clack on the partition between each concrete slab and my Grandmother would scream SaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaammMMMMmm! with her voice being buffeted by the rapidly changing air pressure.

Of course Sam had to get the big Dodge going as fast as possible to make the pass and he would put the pedal to the floor and the car engine would scream.

And so it it went for nearly three hours:
VVVVVVVVVVroooooooommmmm, clack-clack, SaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaammMMMMmm!, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack,Whoomp.

VVVVVVVVVVroooooooommmmm, clack-clack, SaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaammMMMMmm!, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack,Whoomp, Clack-Clack, Whoomp.
VVVVVVVVVVroooooooommmmm, clack-clack, SaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaammMMMMmm!, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack,Whoomp.

Sam was a master of the pass. He would do it with 18 wheelers coming at him, barely getting back into his lane before the huge trucks would hit us head-on . Sometimes there would be aborted attempts where he would stick the nose of the Dodge out, only to come back safely to his lane or there were other attempts where he would pass 2 of the four cars in front of him and would have to get force he way back into the middle of the pack of cars he was passing. It was like passing on the installment plan.

After I made my tame pass of the former Oldsmobile owner, I was recalling that you just don't see that anymore, someone passing five or six cars at a time.

As I was approaching the end of the two lane blacktop road, with the final light before the merge on to the divided state highway ahead.

It turned yellow. I had to stop.

While waiting, I looked in the review mirror and sure enough, here comes Mr Hyundai. Pulling even with me to make a left. The light turned green and we left at exactly the same time.

The actual time gained for my pass: zero.

I wondered if that was the same for Sam going to Wildwood.

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