Thank God it wasn't Sumatra...
My work schedule required me to do something this morning that I go to great lengths to avoid like the plague, country music, and John Kerry: drive on the Capitol Beltway in DC during morning rush hour. For those of you uninitiated, DC has the 2nd worst traffic in the nation. Aside from Los Angeles, you can't go anywhere in the borders of the United States and find worse traffic, period. I've made it something of a mandatory thing to avoid working anywhere that makes me drive during rush hour here. This morning's foray couldn't be helped or avoided. Well, fine. Just fine. (grumble, grumble - cuss, cuss.)
As I left my house this morning, I decided that if I was going to be stuck doing 25 on roads with 55-65 speed limits, I wasn't going to do it without coffee, so I pulled into the drive thru of the local McDonalds and grabbed 1 regulation-type medium coffee. Taking a brief moment to stir in the cream (or reasonable facsimile), I then got things in gear and headed into battle. While I pride myself on being a good driver and a fairly decisive one, I hold no candles to the maniacs, lunatics, and other road-rage candidates out there. While making sure to avoid getting stuck in the high-speed lane in front of them, I settled into one of the middle lanes and got myself stabilized. That complete, I decided to have a sip of my coffee before it got really cold.
In case you're ignoring that sense of impending doom: don't. It's about to pay off...
I carefully removed the little "drink here" cap and brought the cup up, never removing my eyes from the road. I was surprised the coffee was still as hot as it was and had to blow into it a little bit to cool it some. It was at that very moment that the cranially-challenged operator to my immediate forward-left made a sudden pull to the right, obviously intending to get into the lane I was currently using. My eyes snapped over and acquired him while I instantly began making the 100+ little calculations one makes in this kind of traffic. How fast is he going? Are we closing? If he continues, will he actually hit me, or miss? By how far? Where can I go from here in case he can't avoid hitting me? What are the road conditions? Etc, etc, etc. Turns out he realized almost immediately that he wasn't clear to complete his lane change and he stayed over there with a quick correction to his course. The last I saw of him, he was accelerating away from me, still in his lane.
What I had not seen was the pothole. Not a huge one, but rather deep. And positioned just so it'll give your tire a thump hard enough to actually bounce the whole car. Including you. Or rather, me. And, of course, anything I was holding at the time, e.g. a cup of fresh, steaming hot, ohmygoddon'tspillthatoritsgonnahurt coffee.
So, you spilled coffee in your lap?
Oooooohhhh, no, no, no, my friend. That'd be too easy. You see, when the car bounced, I bounced. When I bounced, the cup bounced. When the cup bounced, the liquid within tried to bounce, but was held in place by the lid I had so carefully made sure was attached. So when the car, I, and the cup lifted off and peaked, the coffee smacked into the top of the lid. When we 3 returned to our previous altitude, the liquid within the cup was still in transit back down. Ever see what happens to a liquid surface when that occurs? The weight wants to spread out from the center and climb the sides of the container. Again, no problem because there's that lid in place. Except, of course, where I'm trying to drink from it. Water follows the path of least resistance and coffee, apparently, thinks that's a pretty neat idea. There's a lot less resistance passing out through a hole in the lid.
Even if there's a set of nostrils located about one-half inch above that hole. Ever burn the roof of your mouth with hot coffee? You ain't seen nuthin' yet... The dollop of coffee that escaped the cup apparently morphed into something that must have resembled a coffee-colored 10-penny nail centered directly in the opening of my left nostil. I would say that it felt like a 10-penny nail, too, except that would be wildly inaccurate. It felt like a red hot 10-penny nail.
As you might imagine, my auto-systems took over and implemented their best-practice procedures for just this kind of emergency: they panicked. My eyes, which had only just returned to a forward-looking posture, attempted to evacuate from my skull, in opposite directions. As they attempted to flee along a vector consistent with the side of my head they had, up to then, been happy tenants of, the pain-avoidance department sent an urgent memo to motor control to lift my nose as far away from the coffee as possible. The vastly overwhelmed Common Sense division caught the alarm on the "Things That Aren't a Good Idea" panel and scrambled to override the previous memo which was being acted upon with all due haste. My eyes, having recognized that they weren't going to get very far anyway, relaxed back to their normal positions and reported that the fabric on the interior roof of my car seemed a little worn. (Thanks, boys, but I'm a little busy right now.) Common Sense escalated the issue to Motor Control's Manager who immediately implemented a countermand on the previous move, ordering the head back to normal alignment with all speed. The 1 brain cell still working on the "Good Foresight" project scatched its little synapses together and tried to remember whether it had actually sent the message requesting the arm move the cup out of the way, or had just written it and not put it in the mail.
Three guesses which one....
My head came snapping back down and I managed to just clip the edge of the cup with my chin. The cup was tilting dangerously toward pouring the coffee down my front and my arm and hand were going to have none of that. Lacking any orders to the contrary, they re-asserted the full upright position of the cup immediately - throwing the coffee within back toward the hole in the lid. The aforementioned "10-penny coffee nail" rose again from the depths and sailed back up the same damn nostril! (Ed. note: the term is pronounced: YYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
My eyes had concluded that they weren't going to simply launch out of my eye sockets on their own, but bugging out was just fine. In fact, they obviously decided to get together and discuss the matter and made a highly credible attempt to meet over the bridge of my nose. Old Common Sense once again lost control and my nose headed for the ceiling to escape the molten lava java erupting from my cup. Again came the realization that this was an improper driving posture, but this time we'd bring the head down and pointing a bit left. This had the serendipitous effect of actually allowing my left eye to see right down the road in front of me, even though it had to look past the right eye to do so. At this point, Nasal Central finally got an open line to the switchboard and started screaming about getting "that hot shit outta here", and I realized that I now had 2 - count 'em, 2 - 10-penny nails' worth of hot coffee cooking my sinuses. Nasal Central had the answer for that and hit the Emergency Blow control while ignoring the Common Sense Manager's madly waving arms. I dimly recall the horrified look on the face of the commuter in the car to my immediate left as what must have appeared to be the Mother of All Boogers hit the inside of my driver's side window. (In a fine shade of mocha, no less.) It lacked finesse, but it did the job.
Meanwhile, the Fine Motor Control Division was finally making their tiny voice heard in reminding me that they had been continuing the piloting effort of my 1800-pound vehicle careening along at 60 or so in heavy traffic with almost no positioning data from my eyes, which (by the way) were giving the wide-eyed stare back at the horrified commuter while noting the slow drain the of the coffee-booger down the window. Dimly I became aware of that voice, curiously in a highland accent.
Cap'n! She canna take much muir, sair!!
Thankfully, I was then able to get my eyes back to the road and confirm that I was not only still in my lane but well outside any dangerous distance to the other traffic. Aside from the commuter to my left, who curiously seemed to be gagging over there, no one else had appeared to notice. After setting the coffee cup down as fast as I could, I assessed how long I'd been having an internal political struggle. Best guess: 3 seconds.
Longest part of my commute, bar none.