I am still haunted by the memory of a life detour taken. It was a very literal detour—on I-95 in Providence, Rhode Island. To return to the Interstate past some roadwork, or whatever it was that necessitated the detour, I missed a critical turn. Instead of being where I wanted to be—heading south to New York on the highway—I found myself in what resembled the backdrop of a particularly seedy film noir: a labyrinthine wasteland of streets leading to nowhere.
If my car quit on me, I was certain I would never be heard from again, breathing my last as a piñata for some indigenous motorcycle gang. Oddly, there was this classic chrome diner smack dab in the middle of this urban back country. It had an “Irradiated Burgers” neon sign in its window. I’d never heard of any such a thing. And although the word rang unpleasant and even dangerous to my ears, I had to assume “irradiating” a burger was somehow a positive. Otherwise, why have a neon sign broadcasting it? But then again, I was lost in the Providence equivalent of Yucca Flat. Perhaps the apocalypse had occurred, or maybe I crossed over into a parallel universe when I missed that key turn.
After fifteen minutes or so of vainly driving through industrial badlands brimming with unsavory characters throwing me unsavory glances, I simultaneously spied a giant termite and heaved a huge sigh of relief. While this may sound like a scene from a bad science fiction movie, this big bug, a motorist landmark, sits atop an exterminator business that has long caressed this stretch of highway. I knew then I was close to where I wanted to be—out of harm's way, on the road leading to home, sweet home, and, happily, in a familiar dimension.
Irradiating hamburgers, by the way, kills the two most common foodborne bacteria: E. coli and Salmonella. But for some strange reason this process hasn't taken the country by storm beyond one health-conscious little diner both somewhere and nowhere in Rhode Island.