The rented electric vehicle glided silently north along the recently paved Route 102. The AI autopilot navigated the twists and turns along the west bank of the Connecticut River effortlessly, only asking the driver to touch the wheel from time to time to make sure he was awake. The end of this hours long journey would bring the idyllic lakes and forests of the largely untouched great north woods, at the headwaters of the river. The car, picked up as one among many at the airport, marked a contrast to townie conveyance; a real novelty compared to the jacked up trucks spouting soot. Aside from the odd school teacher’s hybrid it might have been fair to call this the first EV to grace the area.
Which was ironic. The people depending the most on a stable climate and regular, good snow seasons doing the least to reduce their carbon footprint.
The roads here could be dangerous. The river byways turned sharply and often, and nowhere more suddenly than 102’s very own “dead man’s curve”. From the south, the crest of a hill led to a sudden descent and a sharp left turn, with bare rock on the left and a set of guard rails on the right. Marks on the rails and the rock described past driver error. From the north, however, there were few excuses. The approach was at least a quarter mile of straight road, and if you were going too fast to handle the corner it was because you had no intention of making it through safely.
And the locals were chronically bored. With nothing to do but cruise the same 16-mile patches of road over and over again, newly licensed drivers added variety by driving on the wrong side of the “empty” road. Kids placed discarded railroad ties in the cracks of the pavement and waited to see what might happen.
The driver hovered over the wheel more than once, and yet the EV, reading the warning signs, slowed to the suggested speed and handled each corner with care. Including “that” corner. For the first time, the driver actually took the time to look out across this specific stretch of river. Seeing the rough water and rocks for the first time, the blindness of concentration lifted - the responsibility carried instead by the machine.
For having seen it for the first time, with the awareness of how oft it was and would be overlooked, it was uniquely beautiful, and a reminder of how much of this place was still hidden even from the people who called it home.
Looking back at the road, sticker graffiti. Like seeing double, the yellow and white lines on the road continued straight on the one hand, and off the roadway to the left on the other. The EV veered left. Realizing it was actually reaching the road’s edge, it corrected right and began an emergency stop while smashing through a mailbox.
A moment’s silence. A bone jarring crash, airbags deployed, the vehicle having fallen a little over a foot at reduced speed came to rest on the lawn in front of a farmhouse.
On the road’s edge, feet from remnants of the mailbox, the body of a woman. In an upstairs bedroom window of the home, a camera on a tripod and a teen frozen in terror.