It was close to four o’clock in the morning in the winter of 1993 as I drove south on U.S. Highway Seventeen heading towards the small town of Ravenel, South Carolina with my ultimate destination Hilton Head Island where the future Dragonwife was waiting. I had left the outskirts of Charleston behind me thirty minutes earlier and since it was a moonless night, it was nearly pitch black dark with my car the only one on the road.
The area I was driving through back then was like a throwback to a more rural time, huge and ancient oak trees with Spanish moss hanging down off the limbs lined the road creating an eerie feeling that I was being watched. The only sign of human occupation of the area was the occasional weak light leaking out from the windows of old houses or mobile homes set so far back from the road they actually looked menacing as if they were waiting to snare some wayward soul.
My reason for traveling so late was because I was working a seriously complicated and tiring work schedule at the Tupperware manufacturing plant up in Hemingway, South Carolina. It was my first job after earning my nifty and largely useless Associates Degree in Electronics from the local community college and for several reasons I was happy just to have a job. I had the title of “multicraft technician” working in the factory’s maintenance department. A fancy way of saying I was both a simple bruised-knuckle wrench turning mechanic and inexperienced electrician far more likely to blow up some vital piece of equipment. Honestly, I did not mind my duties all that much, the older guys provided great support and I was learning a lot very fast and the money for the early 90’s was very good.
The reason I seemed so motivated was because at that time we were dealing with both an economic recession and a huge drawdown of military personnel after the first Persian Gulf War. My associates degree was nothing compared to thousands of electronic technicians leaving the services with up to twenty years of experience. Things were so bad for a while I heard stories of old navy guys coming to actual blows over a minimum wage job fixing video games at one of the Chucky E. Cheese pizza restaurants in Greenville, South Carolina. However, while I was very happy to have a challenging job working for a relatively decent corporation my work hours pretty much sucked.
After a short training period during normal daytime hours, I was placed on what is called second shift that officially ran from three o’clock in the afternoon to eleven o’clock at night. In reality because of the growing workload, my boss required me to come in an hour early. Throw in travel time from my apartment to the factory in actuality I had to leave for work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Adding insult to injury since there was no third shift that would have ran over to the morning I had to spend up to two hours after the production workers were done setting the machines for the guys on day shift. After all that, I usually got back to my apartment a little after two o’clock in the morning.
During those seemingly endless nights, I distinctly remember wondering why in the Hell did I leave the military. Even with all its stifling rules and odd hours, I had been far better off playing soldier than the typical civilian blue-collar worker.
While Tupperware was a decent enough place as compared to most other non-union employers in South Carolina, it did share one common similarity. Even as business picked up to the point people joked about setting up campers in the employee parking lot the company was very hesitant to hire new workers. So my off time allowing me a life ran from around two o’clock Saturday morning to one o’clock Monday afternoon.
All through this very demanding stage of my life, the future Dragonwife and I were in the hot and heavy physical phase of our relationship and naturally, I wanted to make the most of it even if it meant a late night odyssey across lonely county roads. I had already made the trip several times and felt I knew all the places where a highway patrolman or deputy sheriff might have setup one of South Carolina’s infamous speed traps. In fact, one of the strange things about these trips with me feeding off ranging hormones and convenience store coffee was the fact I hardly ever saw any type of police officer. Several times the idea would come to me to ignore a few of the red lights and just slide through those empty intersections.
As my luck with have it, the very weekend Dragonwife and I made some adventurous plans to do some nocturnal inspections of sand dunes on the beach I had to stay late at work fixing a machine that taped cardboard boxes. By the time I was able to escape, I was pushing my 1984 Camaro to the limit down roads that no sane person would have driven faster than forty-five miles an hour during daytime.
Despite thousands of hunters in South Carolina Bambi and his kinfolk reproduce far faster and it is no overstatement to say that even during the day a stupid deer will often walk out into the road making it impossible for a driver to avoid hitting it. At night, the situation is even worse and if I caught my son driving like I was that night I would take his car keys and ground him until he was thirty.
Proving the point that God looks after fools and children I never once smacked into a suicidal Bambi. Incredibly, where my luck really saved me was when I found discretion the better part of valor and raging hormones.
While the area around Ravenel was undeveloped, it was obvious that the powers that be expected rapid growth in the coming years. Highway Seventeen had already been widened to four lanes a few years before. Along with that, the intersections that at best once boasted a flashing yellow caution light advising motorists to slow down had been replaced with actual working traffic lights.
It was at one of those empty and isolated intersections I found myself waiting for the red light to turn green. Even with my occasional thoughts off running one of those red lights, I played the good and honest citizen and waited patiently. Since I was nearly overdosing on caffeine seconds seemed like minutes but with the clock in my car, I was able to keep watch on the actual time that was passing. A full ten minutes went by with the red light still staring down at me like some giant, sinister alien. Several more minutes passed and the urge just to haul ass through the intersection was growing in my head. I knew the future Dragonwife was waiting for me at her place with everything ready for our adventure.