For reasons too complicated to explain here, it was decided that the Mother's Day gift, a large potted flower plant, would not be taken home after Sunday's family gathering west of Harrisburg. Instead, promises were made that the plant would be picked up on the very next trip to Neal Carpenter's house, whenever that might be.
In some minds, however, the value of any gift from Neal approaches that of the Holy Grail, and subsequently it was decided that the next trip to his house would be Tuesday.
Minutes after we started, near the intersection of Routes 22 and 309, several vehicles with flashing lights came into view.
This was hours after a Bethlehem Township man was killed in an accident there, but both eastbound lanes were still blocked as authorities surveyed the scene. Traffic was clogged for miles, although not in our westbound lanes, and my wife began talking about an even worse tragedy the previous day.
On Monday, three people were killed in Berks County, it was reported, when a tractor-trailer in the passing lane on Interstate 78, near the Route 737 exit for Kutztown and Krumsville, smashed into a row of slowing or stopped vehicles from behind. When we neared that area, we looked for a sign of that accident but did not see any, and traffic was moving smoothly both ways. Nevertheless, my wife became nervous every time we came near a truck.
Later, on the way back home, in the dark, it was worse, especially as we approached the Route 737 exit. We use that route dozens of times each year, and that section of I-78, especially eastbound, is always scary.
The 18-wheelers constantly change speeds — slow on climbs and well over the speed limit on descents — hogging both lanes in the process. I often see them nearly run cars off the road as they change lanes, and they slog up the hills side-by-side, well under the speed limit as traffic backs up behind them. Truckers are courteous and considerate, meanwhile, to each other.
I have seen state police cars in positions to see the same thing, but in decades of driving in that area I've never seen a trooper pull over a trucker for such behavior.
For some reason, as The Morning Call reported on Tuesday and Wednesday, traffic was backed up in that section on Monday when a rig driven by Vincent Espinvera, of Belleville, N.J., plowed into the back of "slowing or halted traffic" a mile east of the Route 737 exit.
As we returned from our son's home, the 18-wheelers were engaged in their usual bullying, and my nervous wife again started looking for signs of the accident. This time, both of us spotted them — big ugly black burn marks on the pavement. It was only a glimpse, but it was sickening.
I immediately thought of a television interview I had seen Monday night, in which a witness said he heard a woman screaming inside one of the cars as he and others tried to reach her, but were driven back by intense flames. Espinvera, The Morning Call reported Wednesday, put his rig in reverse and moved back 70 feet after crashing into the cars, and then he jumped to safety. It was comforting to learn that he kept himself and his cargo safe.
His victims, it was reported, were Edward and Theresa Dearden of York, 57 and 54, respectively, and Robert Rosner, 52, of Allentown, a well-known prosecutor who had served as a deputy district attorney in Lehigh County and was a deputy state attorney general at the time of his death.
It also was reported that the eight-mile section of I-78 in the area of Monday's tragedy has "a high rate of fatal crashes." That section, said Ron Young, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, has 40 percent more people killed and has 71 percent more crashes than other state highways.
That comes as no surprise to my wife and me. What comes as a surprise, on every trip, is that the state refuses to crack down on road hog truckers who use their 40-ton monsters to intimidate 1- or 2-ton passenger vehicles out of their way, anticipating that if there's a crash, they'll wind up as unscathed as Vinny Espinvera.
Young was quoted as saying that in coming years, that eight-mile section will have improvements, including added lanes for slow trucks on climbs. To me, that means only that they'll be able to slog up the hills three-abreast instead of two-abreast, and will have more opportunities to bully smaller vehicles as they change lanes.
I have traveled by road extensively, in nearly every state, and in some areas large trucks are not allowed in passing lanes, period. Truckers don't like it, but it makes driving more pleasant, and far safer, for everyone else. If such a ban had been in effect on that eight-mile stretch of I-78 on Monday, three people would still be alive.
Unless there are firm rules against 18-wheel road hogging and other malevolent behavior, and unless those rules are enforced, it will not matter how many lanes are given to them in which to run amok.
The time to crack down on the bullies is now, not after taxpayers are forced to pay millions to build nice new truck lanes.
It never ceases to amaze me that there is so little public anger expressed about all this, and so few demands from the public that politicians and the police get off their fannies to do something about it.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays