The Can of Worms

I believe it was the summer of 1968. I was driving over to Rochester, N.Y., to visit a friend. Knowing my fear of the unknown, he agreed to meet me at the Thruway exit so I could follow him to his home. But he wasn’t at the exit, and when I called on the payphone, he said he couldn’t make it and instead gave me directions. And then he added, “…but you’ll have to go through the Can of Worms.” And I said, “What?!” And he said, “Oh, nothing. You’ve got the power.”

And so, feeling uneasy but empowered, I drove north toward Rochester.

Ahead lay the Can of Worms, the intersection of I-490, I-590, Rt. 590, NY 96 (East Ave.) and University Ave., where traffic going east–west on I-490 had to merge and mingle with traffic coming off I-590 and NY 590, where anyone who wished to continue on the same highway had to cross paths with just about everyone else. But I didn’t know this at the time.

All I knew was that suddenly the highway spilled into others, a chaos too vast to fully comprehend, and road signs indicated that I had only a few seconds to cross lanes or be shunted off into the unknown. Those of you who know my dislike of automobiles, and my fear of going anywhere for the first time, can fairly speculate that I said some bad words. I don’t recall, but probably I was screaming the bad words.

I had to get over, didn’t know how I was going to, and then I shot a glance at the car in the next lane. A young woman was driving. She had both hands over her eyes. At 40 m.p.h.

With God as my witness, I tell you she had let go of the wheel and covered her eyes. Her passenger, another young woman, eyes wide open, was screaming.

This was oddly heartening. One, I was not alone in my terror. Two, since she wasn’t watching, I could cut her off without being thought rude. Which I did, hitting the gas and leaving the Can of Worms behind, grateful to be alive.

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