Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Accident

The car, an old orange Chevy, cut too closely in front of the bus trying to get ahead of it in the express lane. The bus struck it just behind the right fender. For a long second the bus just pushed the car down the highway, then with a screech of metal, the car broke loose and spun into the lane to the right. It hit a van that was beside the bus. The van slid into a semi truck and trailer that was in the next lane over. A pickup truck smashed into the back of the semi. Everything came to stop.

Everyone on the bus looked around at the other passengers, in a moment of shocked silence. Nobody had any obvious hurt. I had seen and heard it all unfold, but, on the bus, there was almost no feeling of impact. Pure physics, I suppose. The mass of the bus was so much greater than the car's.

People began to talk. What was that guy thinking? Is the driver hurt? A few jokes. I didn't want to go to work today anyway. It's all your fault. You sat in the wrong seat today. It disrupted the whole balance of the universe. How long do you think we will be stuck here?

The bus driver could be heard calling the accident in to the dispatcher. Then she turned to the passengers. "Everyone alright?" there are mummers of assent. "Anyone see what happened?" Several people nodded or said yes. The bus diver pulled out a small stack of white cards. "Anyone who is willing to be a witness, would you please fill out a card." Several raised their hands. She walked back through the isle passing out cards. I took one. The woman in the seat in front of me said "sorry, I was asleep."
The bus driver nodded. Finished passing out the cards she returned to the front of the bus.

There was a moment of silence as people looked over the cards, then, almost as if on a signal, people began pulling out their cell phones to call work. Hello, yes, I am on the bus. We just had an accident. I will be late getting in. I don't know how late. I'll let you know as things get figured out.

I didn't call. There wouldn't be any one in the office yet.

After the phone calls people started talking again. People who had never spoken to each other now talked freely. I have been riding for fifteen years and this is the first accident I have been in. It's my third. I was in another one one the freeway about a year ago, similar to this one. Somebody cut into close in front of the bus. I have been on buses that broke down many times, but. . .

Sirens could be heard, faint at first but getting louder. Within a couple of minutes two ambulances, a fire truck and three police cars were parked around the accident scene. Only one lane of cars was getting by on the right shoulder.

A policeman came on board the bus. "Is everyone alright here? Did anyone see what happened?" He waited for a response. If you would give me your names and a contact number, please." He came down the isle with and took names in a notebook. "Thank you. Another bus should be here in twenty or thirty minutes. We will transfer you onto that bus and you can continue on your way. Until that time please remain on the bus and be patient. Any questions?" One passenger laughed and said "thanks for riding Metro."

What I am looking for, what I am trying to achieve in these scenes from the endless commute, is a style, a sense of a style, that can convey accurately and simply what happened, what is happening. Poetry I have thought about, form and structure, metric, language, rhetoric, genre, but I have never given such thought to prose. Now I have a novel in mind, maybe my only novel, and I find I want to actually think about sentence structure, the flow of narrative, the presentation of detail, capturing what I see, what I hear, smell and taste. My daily commute is an exercise in patience, frustration, exhaustion and now also an exercise in writing, in memory and precision. I am sure there will be as much frustration and wasted time in the written commute as in the actual, but, perhaps, in the end, something novel will come of it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Parking Lot

Strangely, and perhaps sadly, the best part of my commute is often in the morning at the Safeway parking lot. When I emerge from the store, having purchased a tall drip coffee, black with no sugar or cream, and walk out onto the parking lot, I look up for the briefest moment and see the horizon with its clouds just brightening with the morning sun and I see the buildings around the lot and the cars on the road and a flock--a "murmuration" of starlings, a few crows, and, in that moment, feel the cool of the air on my face, and, for only a second, a certain exhilaration, the sense of what I can only describe as "the freedom of the road," the sense of new places and strange horizons, of novel destinations. It is, in short, a feeling of escape. But then I get back I'm my car and pull out onto the möbius of my daily route, taking a sip of my black and satisfyingly bitter coffee.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Roadside Crosses

Those crosses beside the highways and the country roads that mark the spot where a speeding teenager, or a drunken driver, or a driver hit by a drunken driver, or a tired driver, or a distracted driver, or a driver who was simply unlucky flew off the road and, in a variety of tragic, gruesome ways, died; I have observed them at various times over the years. At first there are flowers and balloons, teddy bears, sometimes--sometimes a portrait of the deceased printed on computer paper, scraps of a poem, some words from friends. Over time the flowers wilt and are replaced only on birthdays or anniversaries. The balloons deflate and lay in the long grass like so many latex snakes. The teddy bears are carried away by stray dogs. The pictures tear and blow away, caught in the wires of a nearby fence or in the twigs of bushes. One day the cross itself is gone and there is only grass and sky, road and fence and the muddy ditch beside the pavement.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bus Stop at Night

Commute, from the Latin com, "with" mutare "to change." To change places, moving from home to work, work to home. The transition, a place between places, a (parenthetical) world between worlds, with it's own laws and weathers, it's own events and stories, consisting of car interiors, park and rides, bus stops, busses, trains, the landscapes sliding past the window like endless variations of an old film. The commute contains other changes as well, the change in selves: the work self with its focus on tasks and deadlines, it's hierarchical relationships, it's mixture of reinforcements and humiliations; the home self with its different relationships balancing authority and intimacy, with it's own special rewards, worries and humiliations. The commute is a time for the self, itself, to transition. I have been commuting for fifteen years.

The bus stop at night. Is that a place to begin? But then is any place a beginning? Leaves and litter rise in little whirls behind the bench shelter. There seems to be some sort of wind tunnel here--the breeze off the water funneled between the buildings, breaking into turbulence on the sidewalk and street in swirling eddies and brisk gusts. He pulls his coat collar closer around his neck and pulls his cell phone from his pant's pocket to check the time. Fifteen minutes. Bad timing. He got to the stop too early; too long to wait comfortably, but not long enough to go somewhere warm and get a cup of coffee. He looks down the street. A pair of headlights shine on the pavement under a swinging traffic light.

A half dozen people are also at the stop. In the garish light of the streetlight they are huddled shadows. Most are bent over their cell phones or IPods. A couple of weathered men talk in Spanish beside the posted schedules. One man leans on the light pole itself smoking a cigarette. Beside him, under the shelter's plastic roof, a women in a pale blue sweat shirt stands silently.

A bus pulls up, not the one he needs, but the one that comes only about ten minutes before. A woman, dimunative, only about five feet tall, stands on the sidewalk by the bus schedule sign and shouts at the bus driver as the passengers disembark. "You bastard, I know you. You're a cop. You're CIA or a sheriff. I know you from before. You are trying to go undercover, but I know you. You can't hide." The bus driver ignores her. The passenger part around her like a stream splitting around a rock, not looking at her, not meeting her eyes.

After the bus pulls away, she comes up two him. She is wearing an old red nylon coat.the sleeves are frayed and ratting. There is a tear in the side revealing dirty white foam. "I am sorry about that," she says, "but he had it coming. She looks up into his face, her eyes slightly amused. "Do you have any change? I need to pay my rent." He reaches into his pockets. "I have 38 cents, that want do much toward your rent." She takes the money placidly and moves down the bus stop not stopping to talk to anyone else. The woman, standing near him, her face half hidden in a pale blue hood, smiles up at him, knowingly. He smiles back.

The bus arrives and the half dozen people waiting line up to climb aboard.