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Seeing red

We were somewhere around Lakeland when we started to lose our minds. I remember my brother pressing his face against the steering wheel, his eyes fixed on the inner workings of the speedometer. Before I could ask, he started explaining.

“If you look at the speedometer up close,” he said, “it looks really cool.”

He’s right. It did.

We were stumbling along at about one mile per hour on I-4 on our way back home to Tampa, and things were looking bleak as red brake lights littered the view up ahead for as far as we could see.

Our trip had started Sunday at 8 p.m. in Melbourne, a city on the east coast of Florida roughly 150 miles from Tampa.

It was now midnight. A 2-hour drive had turned into a 4-hour, make-your-head-explode ordeal.

Soon after the speedometer fun, my brother had another idea.

Inching along at a snail’s pace, he opened his door, slipped his sea foam-green 1998 Dodge Stratus into neutral, and began to push the vehicle along with his feet. “C’mon,” he said, grimacing. “Help me.”

We managed to move about 20 feet before traffic halted again. A lady in Jeep Grand Cherokee in the right lane looked at us strangely.

We were still about 40 miles away from our I-75 exit. The Mitsubishi Galant in front of us was starting to bore me. I had already memorized the license plate, examined its tires and admired its sweet spoiler. I soon started to hate the sight of it.

Next to us, the lady in the Jeep Grand Cherokee fell asleep. We crept past her as she snoozed with her head leaned back on the headrest. Twenty seconds later, a modest beep roused her and she finally proceeded. We looked at her strangely.

We later learned that a major accident — somebody driving a tractor-trailer filled with cooking oil fell asleep — held up traffic around Lakeland for about five hours, according the Florida Highway Patrol.

That, coupled with a third construction zone, made things more clogged and congested than you would think possible.

We had already sat through two lengthy delays at construction zones before we started to go insane. The third — and worst — delay pushed us over the brink of sanity and into the sea of lunacy.

While the accident didn’t help the situation, I still have to question why there were three — three! — construction zones within a 20-mile stretch. Perhaps focusing on one at a time would have been more reasonable. At the rate we were going, we wouldn’t arrive home until roughly 6 a.m. Monday. That’s a 10-hour trip across central Florida.

That’s just stupid.

I-4 has just solidified itself as the worst road in the history of roads. Whether it’s the treacherous turns and twists in the Lakeland area or the endless construction, it remains one of the most hated roads in existence. Too bad it’s so needed; too bad it holds a monopoly on travel between Orlando and Tampa.

If I-4 were an aging pop star, it would be Michael Jackson, because the more work it has done, the more ugly and damaged it becomes.

Anyhow, we were still somewhere around Lakeland when we decided to turn around and spend the night in Melbourne. My brother cut across the dirty terrain between westbound and eastbound lanes at 12:37 a.m. On the way back, we saw the true consequences of the poor I-4 construction planning. For miles and miles, headlights lit up I-4. It was an amazing thing to see. All those poor people, trapped with nowhere to go but the sea of lunacy. The doomed drivers wouldn’t see Tampa, or wherever they were going, until daylight.

The entire construction project in the Polk County section of I-4 is expected to last until late this year or early in 2006 and will cost $195, 932,185.

The insanity isn’t going away anytime soon.

John Calkins is a junior majoring in journalism.