Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Car Accident

I have a day job. I like health care and I hate the "road."
The other day, I am in the normal routine. A member and friend was sitting in my office talking to me. Then, as they say in novels, there was a great crashing noise! Any chance to break up the regular day with the promise of something that starts out with, there was a great crashing noise, I'm going with the great crashing noise story.
Thats what it was!
A smashup like I use to envision with my matchbox cars as a kid. Just a little past the intersection, a SUV was on it's back. Black, shiny, like a beetle upside down, broken window glittering on the pavement around it.
I ran directly toward it.
It only occurred to me latter that this had just happened. We literally heard the accident and now, seconds latter, here was the result.
After thinking about my boy scout reaction, I realized more than anything that I was just fascinated. My first impression was how still everything was. I never thought that about a car correct side up. It seemed like it should radiate cartoon like lines or something to imply the action that just took place. It didn't. Being upside down was evidence enough of what happened.
I bent down and placed my palm on the passengers door. It was hot. It had been in the eighties most of the day. Any car would feel hot if you laid your hand on it. This whole thing was so out of the ordinary that every normal reaction seemed heightened, reinforced by how not ordinary this was.
I tried the handle. It didn't budge. The roof was crushed slightly into the frame of the door. I went to the back door next. It opened. Everything was upside down. Seat belts hung in the air useless. The driver, a man whose name I never got, was on all fours crawling out. I remember not smelling anything. No gas, no engine fluids, nothing. I thought, that makes it safe. Right?
I looked around to see if there was anyone else inside the car. Nope. Then I backed away to the curb to see the man who just crawled out. His expression was human. Everything I have come to think of as mellow dramatic, eyes wide and mouth open in shock, this guy was doing. But I realized that what has made them so mellow dramatic is that I have only seen the expression on actors faces. I can't remember the last time I was around a situation where people made this face for real. This was real. This wasn't an episode of Law & Order.
His eyes were lost. You could tell he was getting all this information. It was going in, but he hadn't reacted to it yet. He was in shock. There was too much to process. People were yelling at him, "Are you OK!?"
No reaction. Just blinking.
A fire truck was pulling up. They were out of the truck and rushing to the upside down car at an impossible pace. A firemen yelled, "Don't move your head!" I assume he was talking to the driver. I thought, that is a sentence that wouldn't bring you comfort if it was a cop yelling it.
And that was that. He was unhurt. Not a scratch on him.
He had tried to beat the light. In doing so, he caught the edge of another cars rear bumper moving through the intersection. This seemed to abruptly pull his front tires in one direction. Being a small SUV, it was top heavy. True to all warning reports, it flipped over. The front door guard who saw it all told me latter the car flipped twice.
I felt like a little boy again. Is that strange? Like a lot of kids, I had matchbox cars and hot wheels, growing up. I honestly played with them a lot in a sandbox we had in the back yard. Isn't that sweet? Can't you just picture it? Me, in a tree shaded back yard, sitting in a sandbox making speeding engine noises and holding shinny little cars. They were made with actual metal back then. You could feel their weight and the sun made them warm when you picked them up. The wheels were real rubber too. None of this all plastic shit like now days. That made the cars more tangible to me. They had real weight. Real presence. The fine detail stood out. It wasn't blurred like it came out of some mold in a factory with the small parts not properly cut out. Even though it did. The molds were better then I guess.
I spent many summer days sitting there staging accidents on mountain roads. I would dig the sand into piles with a little shovel our father had left there for us. Once in a pile, I would use the side of my hand to smooth out roads that followed the contours of my pretend mountains. The sand that I uncovered was still cool to the touch. It had been hidden from direct sun by the benefit of it's depth. Using my hand to carve out the roads in a long slow gesture and feeling the cooler sand take shape under my palm was the most supremely satisfying feeling ever. I would make and remake these roads for hours.
You couldn't push the cars along the sand roads though. The sand was too loose and the wheels sunk in. I had to hold the cars just above the surface and pretend they were headed toward each other. It was going to be a catastrophe. On these mountain roads, twisting and turning, you had to be careful. It wasn't the accident I was interested in. It was the change from ordinary to extra so. Thats what every kid wants to see. Thats why all modern super hero movies end on a city street with spectacular collateral damage. The wanton destruction of buildings and cars is cool, but I think what we all like is how exactly opposite that scene is to our daily lives. Same thing with this car accident outside my work. It was different.
Later, alone in the office, I felt my hand tingle. What if it had been a broken bleeding body inside instead of a confused man crawling out? I didn't want to see that. My hand tingled because touching the warm surface of the car brought the vivid memory back of playing with cars in the sandbox. I could remember how contend it made me feel when the little cars were hot from the sun. They were hot like real cars got hot. If they shared that in common with real cars, it made them more real to me. Sculpting those narrow roads really was satisfying. The texture of the sand, the flow of my hand cutting into the mound, the feeling of individual grains compressing to the shape I saw in my head and the contrast in temperature all made sense. A kind of sense, in fact, I have not found as an adult.
Strange. A car accident brings on a memory from such a slender connection. We are wired in ways that are hard to navigate. I don't mind this one though. This one brought back the childhood sensation of feeling satisfied. Can you remember the last time you felt completely one hundred percent satisfied? I can now.

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