Howard County Times
Howard County

'Speed' 2010: Sputtering along on the Baltimore Beltway

I remember seeing the movie "Speed" in 1994 and thinking the premise — a load of commuters in a city bus rigged to explode if its speed falls below 50 miles per hour — was a little far-fetched. But that was before today, when I was viciously held hostage by my vehicle's electrical system.

Of course, Sandra Bullock could certainly play me in this sequel, but she'd have to spend months at the gym snack bar enjoying muffins and fruit smoothies to achieve my current fitness level. Similarly, Keanu Reeves could reprise the male lead, but he might be disappointed because his character simply answers the phone and responds to increasingly disturbing reports of the vehicle's condition in a calm, dispassionate manner. Come to think of it, he might be perfect for the role.


Scene: It's a typical Maryland morning; the temperature at 7 a.m. is 89 and rising. With the added humidity, it's frankly a struggle for Sandra to pull on her requisite spandex shaper layer. She finishes dressing and gets into the already hot cabin of her 2004 SUV and heads out on Interstate 70 east to Baltimore. The air conditioning is blowing but barely permeating the constricting shield of her firming Lycra underlayer. But she smiles because she thinks she looks great, or at least decently constrained.

Out of the corner of her eye, she notices a red light flickering on the dashboard. It appears to be the icon for the battery. This prompts her to turn up the radio, because a really good song is on. Her daughter recently sent her a commuting mix CD, and she listens to it every morning, wishing she could figure out what John Mayer is singing in the chorus of "Half of My Heart." It sounds like "And then you come on crashing in / Like the real estate." This makes no sense, but Sandra sings it anyway, because she figures it's an artistic statement about the economy.


Darn that little flickering light! It keeps interrupting her enjoyment of the music. She had better take care of it. She calls her husband, Keanu, at the office.

"Hey," she says, "The battery light is flickering. Can you remind me to get it looked at?"

"Sure," Keanu says.

Feel the dramatic tension rising in this interchange.

Sandra hangs up the phone. The vehicle's stereo system cuts out.

"Hey," she says to Keanu on the phone a second later, "I thought you should know that the radio doesn't work."

"That's not good," Keanu says.

The headlights — on because she always drives defensively when she's on the Baltimore Beltway — go out next. But then the radio comes back on, so she forgets all about it.


It's 10 minutes later, and it's getting mighty hot in the car, because now the air conditioning is not working. Sandra tries to open the electric windows, but they don't work, either. She's trapped in a hot coffin on wheels rolling through Baltimore! She gets Keanu on the phone, pronto.

"I can't open the windows!" she shouts into the phone. "Also, I've got no instrumentation! And I have another 15 minutes before I get to the office."

Keanu asks Sandra if she thinks the vehicle can make it to her office parking lot. Sandra's wondering if she can make it, encased in her elastic heat shield of slimming suppression.

Fortunately, when she is able to park, open the door and get a breath of the fresh, 95-degree downtown air, it occurs to her that she belongs to an emergency travel club, which can tow her car to an authorized service station. And so, with a brand new alternator at the end of the day, Sandra is able to drive home, singing nonsensically along with John Mayer.

But because this is an action/romance film, she calls Keanu up again. Because he's the one person she wants to talk to whenever things are going well, or not so well.