My family decided to brave the state's highway system one recent Thanksgiving by traveling the New Jersey Turnpike south to my sister's house off of Exit 7A. We started on Exit 18, knowing full well that we would hit some traffic before we arrived at her home some 70 miles later. Little did we know that our trip would be a bit of an adventure: not the type we would have liked to participated in either.
It was shortly after the noon hour when our car passed through the EZPass booth. We soon found ourselves traveling past Newark Liberty Airport and the “bucolic beauty" of industrial Linden, NJ. Choosing the car-only lanes seemed most sensible; with enough big rigs and buses on the road we didn't want to subject our midsize car to the wake of a tandem trailer whooshing on by. Soon after making that decision we noticed brake lights more than one mile down the road and a helicopter hovering overhead. Uh oh, this did not look good.
As we arrived near the stopped traffic, police cars and emergency vehicles screamed by along the shoulder. Within ten minutes we were upon the scene: a green minivan had gone off the road and flipped on its side. We didn't want to stare too closely but it did look like as if a small tree was sticking out of the windshield. We all said a prayer for the inhabitants and were thanking God that the rescue workers were already there doing what they do best. Moments later the traffic broke and we found ourselves once again heading south on the turnpike with not a little bit of thanks to God on our part that we were safe.
Holiday travel in New Jersey is fun. Okay, barely tolerable is more like it. If you have family more than 25 miles away, more than likely you will be on one of the major roadways at some point in your trip. It seemed, at times, that the entire New Jersey populace was going where we were going. I only hoped that my sister had a large enough turkey for everyone.
By Exit 8A, traffic had slowed again so we decided to exit the turnpike and follow Route 130 south. Not a great choice as Route 130 is a four lane roadway desperately needing more lanes and less traffic lights. Still, we felt that it beat the turnpike parking lot syndrome.
Near Cranbury we began to experience deja vu all over again as the saying goes. Stopped traffic. Sirens. Emergency vehicles spotted in front of us. The entire highway closed and traffic rerouted. Unlike the previous accident, we weren't going to witness the rescue attempt. So, we said some more prayers for the victims, exited Route 130, and found ourselves following other cars through the town of Cranbury.
At this point, we were in unfamiliar territory, but I didn't mind it. Cranbury is a lovely historic town that seems set in the mid-19th century. Nothing is new, everything is preserved. If you must be detoured somewhere in New Jersey, this town is the place to visit. Tastefully decked out in Christmas splendor, Cranbury looks nicer than Walgreen's town of Perfect. It isn't perfect, but it is real!
Somehow by following signs - there are places in New Jersey where signs will get you where you are going - we arrived at my sister's home. We shared our stories of accident scenes witnessed, a detour taken, and a town admired. The highway madness of earlier that day soon faded away as we enjoyed the company of family and our Thanksgiving feast.
In the early evening we decided to take our tired children and head home. Traffic was much lighter and it moved quickly. Heading north on the New Jersey Turnpike, we decided to exit the road and travel north on the Garden State Parkway, which would bring us closer to our home. What had been a two hour trip down was looking like a 75 minute sprint home. Everything was clear and seemed uneventful. How soon that would change.
We noticed in the vicinity of the Union tolls that traffic was slowing down. At first, we chalked it up to the usual bobbing and weaving one must do in order to find the correct toll lane. However, as we made the approach to the tolls we looked over to the southbound lane and saw the all too familiar scenery of emergency vehicles. Not again.
This time the scene seemed even more horrific. Pulled off the road just south of the toll booths was a public transit bus. A police officer stood outside shining a light through the broken passenger windows. We could see all the windows were blown out by a fire that appeared to have consumed the bus. None of us wanted to imagine what happened; we simply grimaced and said yet another prayer to Almighty God for mercy.
The remainder of the trip home found our car engulfed in silence. Looking back, I certainly can give thanks for not being involved in any one of the three accidents. We don't know if any produced fatalities, but we do know that lives were changed that day. Whether people were speeding, cut off, falling asleep behind the wheel, or for whatever other reason the accident happened, we will never know. Quite frankly, it no longer mattered.
What we do know is this: even under the best conditions and in the best weather, road trips cannot be taken for granted. New Jersey roads are crowded, but serious accidents occur all over the country. That is why our family prays for traveling mercies before we take an extended trip and why we are quick to hold victims up in prayer when we come upon an accident scene. Life is too precious to do anything less.
This article originally appeared on Townstead.com, a defunct site managed by Matt Keegan. It was part of his “Life in New Jersey" series of articles.
Matthew Keegan is the owner of a successful article writing, web design, and marketing business based in North Carolina, USA. He manages several sites including the Corporate Flight Attendant Community and the Aviation Employment Board. Please visit The Article Writer to review selections from his portfolio.