By Bud Herron
For The Republic
Eight years old with a flour sack cape
Tied all around his neck,
He climbed up on the garage
Figurin’ what the heck.
He screwed his courage up so tight
The whole thing came unwound.
He got a runnin’ start and bless his heart
He headed for the ground.
He’s one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith.
Spread your arms and hold your breath
And always trust your cape.
— From the song “Leap of Faith”
written and performed by Guy Clark
A frightening thought crossed my mind recently while I was driving up I-65 on my way to Indianapolis — a thought that would have been safer to contemplate at home in my easy chair than while hurling down the road at 70 miles per hour in a 3,375-pound Toyota.
The thought was one of those electric flashes of fear better left buried in my deep subconscious with visions of snakes slithering out of my toilet and knife-wielding psychopaths hiding under my bed in the middle of the night.
Unlike the snakes and deranged killers — 2 a.m. trips to fantasyland brought on by a bedtime pizza with jalapeños — my fear as I drove north was an unsettling trip to reality.
Reality was that driving an automobile requires a totally irrational leap of faith, similar to that of jumping off the garage with a homemade Superman cape. There I was, inside a speeding capsule made of plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum and just enough steel to hold it all together.
In front of me, behind me and on each side of me were other cars, mixed in a stew of 18-wheeler semis, box trucks, dump trucks, buses and an assortment of other vehicles from tank trucks full of toxic chemicals to motorcycles between the knees of teenagers.
My cruise control was set on 72 mph, a speed that seemed to infuriate many of my fellow travelers as they careened in and out of traffic looking for ways to go faster.
The highway added a third lane at the Franklin exit, allowing me to join the games of “choose-a-lane” and “switch-a-lane.”
I could drive in the left lane to the honks and obscene hand signals of drivers intent on parking their vehicles in my backseat.
I could choose the right lane and risk death from traffic merging on to the highway from entry ramps. While cars in back of me rode my bumper and cars on my left boxed me in, the entry ramp vehicles worked to crash into me on the right.
I could choose the middle lane, a no-man’s strip of concrete created to allow drivers to go back and forth quickly to the two other lanes in order to go faster, weave more efficiently and sideswipe me on both sides.
Still, years of driving made these road wars so commonplace — so taken for granted — that they left no real electric flash of fear — at least nothing comparable to the snakes in my toilet or the killers under my bed.
The flash of reality that so unnerved me was the leap of faith I was taking every time I drove my car. I suddenly was struck by the reality that all these vehicles were being driven by people.
In order not to declare myself totally insane for driving my car in traffic, I had to believe no other driver was drunk, on mind-altering drugs, distracted by a cellphone conversation or was prone to dizzy spells. Nor were they afflicted with blackouts or fits of road rage.
I had to believe all drivers had experience and appropriate skills and were keeping their minds on the road.
I thought for a moment about pulling off the highway, placing a “For Sale” sign on the windshield of my car and walking home through farm fields.
Trusting my cape if I ever jump off the roof of my garage may be worth a try. Trusting drivers on an interstate highway is a sure sign of insanity.
Bud Herron is a retired editor and newspaper publisher who lives in Columbus. He served as publisher of The Republic from 1998 to 2007. Contact him at [email protected]
Editor’s note: The song lyrics quoted in the introduction of this column have been corrected.