By Graham von Carlowitz, Opinion Editor
I was racing along route 84 the other day — one of the roads I frequent when cruising about in my hometown — all the while considering how many times I’ve driven the road.
At the ripe old age of 15, I learned to drive suspiciously slowly through Kirtland Hills, right where the cop hides behind the water tower. I learned to stop looking for the house I lived in when I was born, as a) it is hidden behind a thick canopy of houses, hidden for none to see and b) the fruitless search will inevitably lead to a crash, so stop while you’re ahead, man.
I learned to accelerate around the bend that passes Zappy’s gas station in order to catch the light by the Woodstock (á la Charlie Brown) doghouse — though I have yet to regret the 20 seconds I get to spend at the red light, looking for any sign of a dog (i.e. stray bones, poop piles, half-chewed balls or lamp shades and the like, none of which have been sighted to date).
That day I was driving, my foot propelled me past the gas station and doghouse with ease. Then I killed a squirrel. A real, buck-toothed rodent. We caught each other’s glances for a second before he crossed the double-striped yellow line, signing his death contract in the process.
After being mangled underneath my car, his carcass shot out like it had escaped a pinball machine. My eyes darted to the rear-view mirror in terror, catching the final moments of his dying twitch.
“Oh God! It happened!” I yelled to the passengers — my brother Winston and my friend Joe. It was my way of begging for some pity and one of those uplifting, “Graham, man, it’s fine. He was at fault, not you.”
No feelings were spared.
“He’s dead, dude. You just murdered him,” Winston said.
He was right. What’s more, I could have avoided the catastrophe.
Roadkill really comes down to the split-second you have before the ensuing death, during which you are given a choice: You can slam on your brakes and maybe build a lasting friendship with an unlikely candidate who, let’s face it, literally owes you his life; or speed through the little bastard, telling yourself that the rattling under your car is due to that muffler you totally forgot to tape up.
Only, I am superconscious of everything I do, from the way I sit on a couch to how many lines on the sidewalk I step on. Forgetting a killing like that? For a guy like me? It’s hopeless. Besides, my muffler is in great shape.
The only hope I had of absolving my guilt, then, was to blame Al (I named the dead squirrel) for causing the accident.
Good luck on the hopeful front came just two days after Al had died in the shape of another tumultuous run-in (or drive-in) with my car. That morning, as I inched forward out of my driveway with Kerrigan, my younger sister riding shotgun, I could not help but feel a little tired — dazed, almost.
“It’s too late! There’s no way that’s gonna brew in 2 minutes,” Kerrigan had said on our way out the door. To my utter dismay, she was right.
The coffee grounds in the coffee drip had not been properly drowned in the boiling water that transforms them into the miraculous cup of Joe I need every morning. Someone was at fault, but like Kerrigan urged, we were in a hurry and the blame game was (momentarily) cancelled.
So there I sat in my driveway, perched forward on my steering wheel, trying to spot the last car in a parade of drivers, who really had no business driving out on our streets anyhow. We live adjacent to Amish Country, so you’d expect there to be an absence of cars as a token of living so far from civilization.
“Do you think the Amish will ever upgrade their buggies to be, I don’t know, four-wheel drive?” I wanted to ask Kerrigan. But the question was tabled. A royal blue Jeep Liberty caboosed the parade and, as I usually do when I see the last cart of a 20-minute train passing, I fist-pumped and pulled out into the world.
Then we were struck from the left side by what I assumed was the Amish’s answer to four-wheel drive.
My front bumper shattered into 63 pieces like a Lego tower might if it was hit by a 2015 Dodge Caravan, and just like that I found a way to blame Al.
“Oh shit,” I thought to myself, “I didn’t have any coffee.” I also checked to see if Kerrigan was all right. But then I returned to lamenting my foggy-head status, one cup away from avoiding the aforementioned disaster.
I don’t know if squirrels drink coffee or not, but I would imagine that the acorn addict Al would have been much more alert that morning had he, too, not been robbed of some morning glory coffee.
Sure, he might have tightroped a phone line on one paw in a flurry of misplaced, caffeine-induced energy, but worst case scenario you have an unintentionally flying squirrel land on a windshield — way better than turning into a pavement pancake.
Roadkill is one of those omnipresent problems in our world — street cleaners and road scientists alike have spent decades looking for the perfect solution. I imagine life-saving distractions for potential “pancakes” have been discussed, including but not limited to a fun variety of massage furniture (available in squirrel and deer sizes), almost guaranteed to keep the animals off the street and their feet.
Realistically, though, the project would prove to be too costly, especially considering the lofty task of assembling mini massage chairs (not to mention the unproven theory that animals would even consider sitting upright).
What needs no proof is that all animals drink, regardless of their seating preferences. So instead of forcing innocent people like me to paint an evil portrait of Al the Asshole Squirrel, what’s holding us back from approaching roadside wildlife with a warm smile and refreshing pot of coffee?
Email Graham von Carlowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org