The Commute

(This is a short piece written in 2002. I still remember this moment on this day although most of the thousands of miles I commuted over those years barely fire off a synapsis these days. Days like this one left imprints.  Word Count 700)

I pulled out of the parking lot and headed over the railroad tracks to the freeway. As I looked up to the overpass I could see traffic inching along. “Damn” I sighed.   Because I was unfamiliar with any short cuts to by-pass the jam on the city streets I had no choice but to climb up the onramp with the rest of the commuters and join the CO2 mob in the thick. Before I even reached the end of the Gilman St on ramp onto East 80 I could hear a fire truck fighting it’s way through the slithering ooze of pistons and steel.

I eased over out of its way but quickly got back over the three lanes to bypass the 580 off ramp that was only a mile or so down the road. I was thinking and hoping that whatever was causing the jam up was closer to me than far away and realized to my delight as I looked ahead that I was almost on top of it. (Delight being related to being close to the other side of it only.)

My first impression as I climbed up the on-ramp ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a gawking / looky-lou problem.’ It never ceases to amaze me of how morbid people are and stupid … slowing down to see what hell or torment they might be able to witness at an accident scene on the other side of the road. Would there be blood and guts or heads rolling away. This fascination is mind-boggling but it is all too acceptably human, eh?

The slow ooze of traffic came to a dribble as I saw between cars the approaching emergency vehicles ahead. Off to my right an ambulance with its lights flashing and sirens blaring made an almost straight cut across the four lanes causing all traffic to stop.   The accident couldn’t have been more than two hundred yards ahead and I mentally expressed my usual thoughts as I came up to or heard or saw an accident like this. ‘Hope no one is seriously hurt,’ but that would not be the case here.

Again and again people from the two lanes to the left of me were cutting over to get around the blockade of emergency vehicles that blocked most of the fast and second lanes. The people in fast lane were pulling into the breakdown lane to their left to pass the accident. Inching up to the scene I could see a pair of tennis-shoes just below some Levis between the bottom of the fire truck and the road. My first thought was someone had tried to cross traffic on foot. Don’t laugh I have been in more than one traffic jam from someone on foot getting hit by a car.

I noticed that no one was bent down helping the person; the police officers were standing over him talking to the ambulance driver. Even the ambulance driver seemed to be taking his time getting there. I didn’t look at the man, but then how did I know it was a man – just a guess. My peripheral vision is better than most and I could see the helmet still on his head as he lay there bitterly still on the hot, hot asphalt. I saw him while I was looking at the bright shiny red crotch-rocket that lay facing away from the setting sun or towards me.

Those few minutes more, as I inched past the scene at a sauntering ten miles an hour, I kept my eyes straight ahead. I thought if I didn’t look I could at least believe – that the ambulance driver was taking his time and no one was bent over this poor fella because he was fine. Just waiting to be taken in for a check-up. If I don’t look, right?

I did my best not to look but that one last look I stole at the motorcycle as I passed the final few feet brought a world of thoughts crashing down on me. Was that beautiful red, built for speed motorcycle worth it, as it lay there, perhaps ownerless now? Was he ready to give it all up? Was facing all those four-wheel, fully enclosed giants and their mad ways, worth the freedom of the wind in his face?   Are we ever ready for that next lap on the commuter course in survival?

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