I was driving into work on I-78 in New Jersey with the top down on my Wrangler, sipping my still-steaming hazelnut coffee and enjoying the view of the clear blue skies overhead when I heard it: the unmistakable droning of cicadas.
Not just any cicadas though — the Brood X cicadas which journalists have been breathlessly warning us about for months. The little buggers have crawled out of their subterranean lairs to fly drunkenly from tree to tree, mate, and die. Two weeks ago, I’d heard them in Princeton, and one week ago they’d hit my in-laws’ house outside of Allentown. And now they were here.
As I listened to the collective roar of the sex-starved insects, I looked around me, and noticed small dark shapes flying maybe 20 feet overhead. Suddenly, I realized that these must be the bug-eyed monsters themselves. I’d heard about them confusing houses for trees — any flat vertical surface counts as a tree for these things — but it hadn’t occurred to me that they might think tractor trailers, SUVs and regular cars caught in stop-and-go traffic were trees. Or that they might try crossing between the tree-filled median and the tree-filled shoulders (yes, we do have trees in New Jersey — quite a few of them actually).
Now normally this would have been a passing curiosity, but remember that I had the top down on my Wrangler, leaving it open to the beautiful morning sunshine … and a horde of bugs who still hadn’t figured out this whole “flying” thing.
A new challenge was born. I could see the cicadas moving slowly across the highway — speedsters these bugs are not — so I could slow down and let them pass (at which point they promptly grappled the truck beside me). Speeding up wasn’t really an option, since traffic wasn’t going anywhere fast.
Unfortunately though, it’s much easier for the bugs to hit a big target like a Jeep than it is for me to evade them, and a few came buzzing my way, landing on the windshield, the roll-bar, and the hood. Those that landed in the Wrangler I flicked away — the last thing I needed was for one of the little critters to come flying up at my face while I was trying to inch my way toward I-287.
So what to do? Well, I’m not putting the top up just because of a few bugs, even if they red-eyed creeps the size of my thumb. I’m thinking leaving earlier might work — they don’t much like the cold, and I was driving in around 8:30, when things had warmed up nicely. If that doesn’t work, I’ll snag a flyswatter from the house. No, not to swat them — just to give them a gentle prod off of my dashboard, so that they can fly off and get squashed by their new friend, Mr. 18 Wheeler.