Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Commuting with the Crazies

There are all sorts of bizarre things happening at 4am as I commute to the station. It’s really pretty hazardous duty because the usual folks out and about at that hour are either drunks or newspaper route runners, and in my experience, neither subset of society is very precise when it comes to observing traffic laws.

Full disclosure: on a clear, moonlit night, with an empty stretch of pavement beckoning, I will sometimes “push the envelope” in terms of time and distance traveled. However, I don’t cross the double yellow lines, and I manage to find the brake pedal in time for red lights and stop signs.

This morning’s pre-dawn commuter reverie was interrupted by a large, black sedan barreling through the intersection ahead of me at an excessive rate of speed, and in blatant disregard for the red light for traffic on that street. This guy was going so fast, I almost thought I imagined it. Had I been coming through the intersection 30-seconds sooner, the outcome would have been tragically different.

Curiosity overcame common sense, and I turned off my route to see whether the fool behind the wheel of the speeding car had made it to the end of the block in one piece. He had. The moron blew through three more stop signs, and ran all the way into the dead end of the street, pulled to the side of the pavement, and parked his car.

I pulled up about 25-yards behind, hit my high beams, and just sat and watched for what might happen next.

For the longest time, the driver of the car remained inside.
Then slowly, the driver’s side door opened, and a Hispanic male in a black t-shirt and dark jeans spilled out of the car on legs of jell-o. This character wobbled and bobbled around to the front of the car, weaved alongside the passenger side, and stumbled to the rear of the vehicle. He looked up and down the darkened street, stared into my headlights for the longest time, and then clambered back into the car, and started it up.

Amazingly, this guy pulled-off a three-point turn into a driveway without driving off the sides. He slowly drove up even with my car and stopped. When he rolled down the window, I said, “Good morning.”

He slurred his words as he tried to apologize for running the red light in front of me.
“You saw me back there?” he asked.
“Man, I F***-ed up,” he grinned sheepishly. “I am so sorry…”

I asked his name.
“George, how fast were you going through there—fifty or sixty?” I asked.
He nodded.

“You know, I come through here every morning about this time, on my way to work," I said. “Do you realize that if I’d been in the intersection when you ran that red light, you would have killed me, and maybe, you?” I asked.
He nodded blankly.
“Yep, about thirty seconds sooner, and you would have gotten me,” I let the statement hang in the damp night air.

“Oh, man, I am sorry dude, I know I F***ed-up,” he bleated.
I asked him how old he is.
“George, do you want to live to be 23?” I asked..
He nodded blankly.
“Then don’t run red lights,” I said. “It’s that simple.”
“Oh, dude, I am sorry, so sorrrry,” he continued to ramble.
Only now he realized he wasn’t really being busted by anyone with a rank higher than civilian. Still, he extended his hand, as if we were bonding over his lucky near-miss in the intersection.

“George, are you driving drunk tonight?” I asked.
He nodded meekly.
“How far away from here do you live?” I asked.
“I jus’ livvv o’er dere,” he mumbled, gesturing in about three directions at once.
His house might as well have been on Pluto.

“Why don’t you go park that car, and turn it off, and go inside,” I suggested in my most authoritarian voice. Yeah, me and what Army, I thought to myself…

“Okay, man; I am sorry, okay?” he continued to whine, right hand extended through his window towards me.
Did he have a gun in the left hand?
Was he going to bust a cap in my chest and drive off into the night?
Was I in danger?

I didn’t think so.
This guy could barely stumble in a loop around his car.
He almost didn’t know where he was.
He was clearly a danger, to himself and anyone he passed in his car, but not a likely threat here and now. His car was motionless.

I grabbed his right hand with my left.
“George, go home. Don’t drive drunk. I don’t want you running into me on the way to work some morning, okay?” I intoned.
“Now, go home, and be careful,” I finished, releasing his hand.

“Okay, man, I know I F*****-up. I’m sorry…” he began to ramble again.
He put his car in gear and jerked forward.
I pulled a three-point-turn in the same driveway, and followed him out of the cul-de-sac.

At the stop sign, he hooked a sharp left, never touched the brakes, blew through the intersection, and disappeared into the bowels of the darkened neighborhood.

I hope he made it home.
I made it to work.
Tomorrow’s another day.

I’ve never understood the usage of phrases like “near-miss” vs “near-hit.”
Think about it—if you’re trying to survive, say a drunk speeding through an intersection, do you want a near miss or a near hit? I suppose it’s all about proximity and the nature of the hit or miss.

Sometimes the word usage is just not accurately applied.
We say near-miss for nearly-missed; we say near-hit for nearly-hit.

“I nearly missed you.”
Thank goodness?
Actually, I want to be nearly hit.
Nearly missed means hit.
Nearly hit means missed.

But that’s not what the phrases say.

No comments: