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.

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