Posts Tagged ‘traffic’

STORY – Drunk at the Crossroads

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012




Late one night, driving out of the center of Brussels toward home, I arrived at a notoriously chaotic crossroads where impatient automobile traffic piled in from ten different aggressive directions. Truly, ten streets dumping cars onto one large oblong area where everyone wanted to get to the other side first. A place where all concerned needed to keep their wits about them, especially late, late at night, with too much liquid merriment in the veins.


Coming from my own direction, one of the thinner streets to disgorge traffic, I waited like a good cautious boy, watching the traffic light, anticipating when it would switch from red to green telling me I could now go go go. For the moment it was telling me to stay (…stay…stay…). I sat and stayed seeing no change of colors, no switch from red to green, not even yellow was making a surprise appearance. I just kept staring, waiting for something to happen, when I finally entertained the thought — horror of horrors — that I was staring at a dead-eyed red light. It was not going away, not changing to anything but remaining dedicated to staying true to its red self for the foreseeable future. Somebody honked behind me. Then somebody else honked behind him. Restlessness was building behind me.


I examined at the crossroads once more, weighing my chances of making it without wreckage and death. Numerous cars were busting through their own dead red lights from other streets roaring toward the cluttered center of the crossing, most zooming round, switching gears, feinting left, swerving right, being fearsome and belligerent, absolutely indifferent to possible dents, whether to body or brain. It was every car for itself way past midnight with my home sweet home somewhere on the other side this killer span of blacktop. I daringly moved my car two inches forward, then halted to check how my progress was going, sweeping my eyeballs left and right, checking incoming threats. More insistent honks piled up behind me.


Continuous blurry headlights swung by from different directions with different speeds. Prodded by honks, I continued inching cautiously toward the main mass and mess of the intersection. Growling Alpha cars missed my front fender by micro inches. My eyes weaved in and out of the cars before me, measuring the “what was to come” when and if I did actually get out there where the world raged on, and during this look I thought I spotted some wobbly gesturing scarecrow improbably in the middle of all this.


I moved a full couple of bold yards forward and saw that this vaguely human form was as a shirtless male staggering about, pointing at zigzagging cars with one hand, waving his shirt in the air with the other. I stared at this death-defying sight while the cars behind me honked more insistently until my brain clicked that this man’s gestures were a crude imitation of someone in authority trying to direct a traffic jam.


Startled people behind the wheels of hostile vehicles slowed, also baffled by the man in the middle of this, stumbling to the left, then to the right, like a man on the deck of a ship caught in a massive storm, all the whole pointing here, pointing there, doing an impression of handling traffic with a slick, efficient diligence. Other cars, less impressed, buzzed past, nearly clipping his hip. A few, like mine, waited for something deadly to happen, such as a sloppy car in a fierce hurry smacking him and sending him twirling limp and lithe high through the air, a pinwheel human in an fantastical airy dance.


This man, full of drunken confidence, weaved toward my car, pointing at polite, timid me, indicating that I should now come on through, drive, drive. He held his flat just-you-wait other hand toward an angry driver racing from the right. This driver screeched his wheels briefly, insisted he wanted through with his front bumper, as though threatening that he was more than willing to run over the drunk if he did not give ground immediately. The drunk guy gave nary an inch, the hand continuing its authoritative no!


Once convinced his authority had been stamped and that the angry driver had been tamed, and ignoring all other dozens of cars coming and speeding by and honking horns, the guy returned his full attention to me. He waved me on with the surety and arrogance of one drink too many. At this the angry driver on his right took his chance, revving and swerving behind the drunk, who caught this disobedience, twirled round, waving his shirt at the driver to stop, stop! right where he was and allow calm passage of my car. But the guy was good and gone.


Once more waved on, I dutifully drove steadily and gently across the intersection, keeping a lookout in every direction while the drunk assured me with his gestures that my way was paved with gold and to prove it he was going to accompany me, so to speak, all the way across, perhaps since I was one of the few cars actually obeying him. Cars kept honking, continuing to zip past, and those pent-up cars once behind me flew in another blur right past me and my guide. Finally seemingly safe on the other side, I drove on, started inhaling again while the traffic continued its aggression and honking behind me.


I glimpsed in my rear view mirror the drunk returning right to the middle of the crossroads, energetically waving his shirt anew, pointing at naughty drivers, determined to keep everything orderly and tidy according to a plan not fully evident to those embroiled in his project, as he weaved, and automobiles weaved, and I turned my eyes away and my car left into a side street and drove on, drove home.

Story – Crosswalk

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Crosswalk


Judy used to like driving her car. A little power in her hands, moving along. A sense of getting somewhere she was headed toward.


Then the animals took over the streets and lately driving had become an urban mano-à-mano experience.


Pleasure had been replaced by other people. Other people in other cars who induced in her a feeling of rational paranoia: she knew they were out to get her.


A for instance. No one any longer knew how to use their blinkers. Cars right in front of her turned abruptly left or unexpectedly right without any warning as though part of Judy’s job experience as a car driver was now mind reading.


Then there were those other numerous idiots who fantasized they were race car drivers and just could not resist racing her, even though the traffic light just ahead was red. Many major bozos functioning solely with their primitive brain pan whizzed past her driver’s window, cutting right in front of her at the last moment. As though receiving extra bonus points or able to go to another level on some game Judy had no idea about. Then would come their rear lights, reddening up as they stomped on their brakes to sit at the red light waiting for the green to turn up.


And Judy sat in her car, now behind them, thinking spit and knives, one-on-one terrorist acts festering in her glove compartment, roaring images of not stopping her car, of continuing driving right up their car’s backside, rolling on top, squashing down on them, ridding the world of one more urban idiot with a valid driver’s license.


She also wanted to flash her lights, honk her horn, scream and scream. She also wanted to get out of her car and go knock on their window and wag a finger in their face, and give them what for.


But she behaved herself with only her hands making damp squeaky sounds as the flesh of her palm ground around the steering wheel, working out the tension.


And she saw that it was always, inevitably, a guy, some young male with no doubt a low sperm count and big inarticulate needs with dirt underneath his fingernails whose dreams consisted of successfully waking up in the morning, all ambitions of his narrow life already met.


Judy had her moments. In her imagination. Other scenes. Full of illegal urges. Beyond running into them to teach them a lesson. Or at least ruin their day. Get them off the road. For a while. The impulse passed. Barely. Yet returned often. Often.


It was just no fun to drive her car in city traffic any longer. All the aggression, rudeness, all the effort of controlling her anger.


In minor revenge, people on pedestrian crossings became target practice. Here she would be the boss and make people jump back on the curb when she drove up. Glowering, tense, alive with some sense of power.


When there was no rush to get somewhere she thought she had to get to quickly, she would sometimes stop and obey the law, letting people without cars cross the crosswalk.


Judy’d rev her engine a little just to see them pick their pace up a bit.


Last week she had come upon a young black guy who looked half-asleep, slouching at the curb, waiting.


She was going to go straight across the crosswalk, without even slowing. This was one guy who could wait.


But getting closer, she could see he was holding something close. Judy thought it looked as though it was a baby wrapped up in different colorful small blankets his chest. He was hardly glancing at the traffic, a little to the left, little to the right, without much hope or real interest. He was laying-back.


As Judy approached, he placed his right shoe tip onto the first white line of the crosswalk. As though testing the water before going in. He stayed this way, looking neither left nor right.


These days someone starting to cross the street was no reason for Judy to stop; more a reason to speed up.


Magnanimously, Judy slowed. Stopped.


The man still did not look up. Not at Judy, not at her car, as he put his other foot onto the crosswalk. She watched his slow, sleepy movements, the bundle of cloth containing a baby he held. Then as he passed the front of her car, she saw an unfolding of his hand that faced her. Fingers appeared. She watched as he made a casual, hip-high peace sign in her direction. He held it as he crossed, keeping his eyes on the white lines ahead of him and his hands supporting the baby. Then the fingers curled back to hold the child tighter as he reached the other side and stepped up and left the crosswalk.


She sat there, feeling strange, until someone honked from behind.


For the next days, Judy stopped fairly regularly at crossings, seeking more peace signs.