We were sitting on the M6 motorway. The car was stationary, as it had been for the previous thirty minutes. Ahead of us was the next junction, within sight, but closed off. Beyond that there was a wall of standing traffic. The motorway was closed but we – the stranded – were still on it.
The fourth ambulance came screaming up the thankfully empty lane next to the central reservation. It had been closed for resurfacing; a miracle, really, given the likely mayhem that lay ahead of the wall of silent cars in front of us.
More for something to say than any real content, we began to talk about how it had been ‘one of those days’ and how we were always unlucky in trying to pick the fastest queue for checkout at CostCo, the place from which we had just come, only minutes before hitting the brakes at the sight of the wall of cars and trucks going nowhere.
We do a lot of our monthly shopping there. Like most warehouses, it’s not pretty, but it is functional, and allows us to buy in bulk, rather than shopping every weekend. The collie and her need for lots of exercise usually dictates the nature of our days. We’re probably a lot healthier than we would be without her. We’d rather spend our time dog-walking and writing than shopping. So CostCo serves us well.
Our chosen queue, moving efficiently when we switched to it, had proved the very opposite in the few minutes afterwards. I knew how sensitive the northern M6 would be to peak traffic, and we were about to enter that period of almost exponential build-up. I had muttered under my breath; eager to be checked out and on our way back to Cumbria.
Now, sitting on the vast tarmac strip that is a modern motorway, we could see movement. Two of the traffic policemen were removing the barriers to the exit road – an escape that would at least allow us to find another route home. In less than a minute, we were moving and driving up the ramp, from where we could see the carnage that had been just around the shallow bend of the carriageway.
And then the revelation struck me. At 70 miles per hour we would have been at what had become the crash scene a few seconds ahead of where we were. In other words, we would have been in the middle of it…
Switching queues, with our usual dismal result, might not have been so bad, after all. The wrong queue had, quite possibly, saved our lives.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.