I had the surprise of seeing old friends last night. We met in the middle of I-540 about 300 feet above the ground. No, this wasn't an out of body experience nor was I under the influence of illegal substances. The story goes something like this . . .
Karen and I were on our way to Brentwood to collect our children at my parents' home. Typically we take Interstate 540 to get there and this evening was no exception. I-540 was built within the last ten years and takes advantage of the best technologies in highway construction. Rather than follow the curves and contours of the rolling mountains like Highway 71, which is I-540's scenic counterpart and once the only major route to Northwest Arkansas, I-540 shoots straight across deep valleys and bores through the sides of mountains. Highway 71 attempts to become one with nature, but I-540 lives by the adage that the shortest and fastest distance between two points is a straight line.
We were barreling along on I-540 and were crossing the high bridge over the railroad track just before the Bobby Hopper tunnel. Five or six cars ahead of me I could see something massive obstructing both lanes of traffic. We came to a quick stop. Soon traffic was backing up behind us and we were frozen with other trucks and cars in the middle of the bridge. There are no exits that high up and the shoulder is quite narrow. There was no getting around this accident.
After a few minutes the curious nature of the obstruction aroused my curiosity. What was the massive construct stretched across the highway? Did I see a boat in all that mess? I noticed that no emergency vehicles had arrived so in addition to curiosity I was motivated by a concern to give whatever aid I could. I suppressed my concern over what tragedy might lie ahead. I started on my "spacewalk" outside the safety of the mothership and emerged between the two Wal-Mart trucks blocking my view. Ahead of me was a camping trailer on its side effectively blocking both lanes. On one end was a blue truck still attached to the towing equipment. On the other end was a boat trailer attached to the camping trailer but hung up on the concrete barrier that kept it from plummeting down on the Mountainburg field below. Lying alongside the trailer was a keen looking fishing boat that had somehow jumped off its trailer in a vain attempt to escape the accident.
After my initial survey from a distance I met another adventurer returning from the barricade. "Is everyone alright?" I asked.
"Yes, they're all perfectly okay," he replied with a slight hint of amazement in his voice.
Satisfied that there was no human tragedy, I returned to my van. The minutes ticked by and my boredom mounted. The parade of emergency vehicles followed by a news truck stirred my blood but I resisted the urge to be a rubbernecker. Then my intellectual curiosity and scientific inquiry overcame me - "How exactly will they move that colossus?" I thought. I took a breath and launched back out into space.
Closer now I ventured. Closer still. I was upon the small crowd of civilians huddled near the concrete barrier of the bridge. In the rainbow colored lights of the emergency vehicles I watched the skilled engineering maneuver being used to disconnect the truck from the towing bar on the trailer. They were smacking it with an axe.
Just then I noticed a woman speaking on her cell phone. Beside her was a man holding the hand of a small child; he was speaking to a state trooper. I overheard the city police officer tell the trooper that this couple were the owners of the truck/trailer/boat assemblage. The woman finished her phone conversation. We looked at each other with recognition.
"I know you!" she said.
"And I know you!" I replied as I introduced myself.
I knew who they were even as she told me that she was Holly and he was Alex, a couple I knew when I lived in Russellville. This was no time to catch up on old times but to assess the present situation. Did they need anything? Were they okay? No to the first and yes to the second. Good answers! As we looked at the black and gray markings on the stark white concrete barrier, Holly gave thanks to God that their truck did not go over the edge. She told me how she was praying through it all. I could tell that she had been through a terrifying few seconds when the various components of their freight train decided to go their own ways. It was obvious that she was thankful and felt fortunate to be alive with her family. She and Alex were smiling with relief. Finally, she asked me to apologize to everyone stranded behind them.
I returned to the van just as the tow truck was headed down the shoulder of the highway. Alex and Holly shuffled off to speak to the state trooper. I realized that they had quite a story to tell. Quite a testimony to give. I hope they do not mind if I tell my part of it.