Sunday, September 14, 2008

Los Angeles, Part Three, Conclusion

Los Angeles, Part Three, The Conclusion

Three days later, midmorning, my mom and I pull away, running a little behind schedule, headed out for the second part of our journey. I’m frustrated by this point, of course, wishing for more time with my husband, impatient with my mother, as I always get after a couple of days.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania or perhaps Ohio, we come around a gentle curve in the divided highway to be greeted by flares, cones, and “Accident Ahead” signs. I slow, wondering aloud what kind of accident warrants this high level of warning. My first thought – train wreck – I dismiss instantly as terribly unlikely. There aren’t many cars on the road, but we all slow and bottleneck in the next quarter-mile, coming upon the accident at fifteen or twenty miles an hour.

On the right, a twenty- or thirty-foot length of guardrail is missing, the empty space and churned up dirt bracketed by metal so twisted my mother points mutely. Immediately after is a tow truck with the cab of a semi truck on its flat bed, except the cab is on its side and the axles are gone, simply stripped away, the bottom of the cab exposed and looking strangely scraped clean. The container is next, blocking the entire right lane and angled such that I wonder if there was another vehicle – perhaps what made the hole in the rail? – that the truck hit head on. The container, too, is on its side, its front axles broken and the tires mangled.

My mom counts the emergency vehicles aloud and wonders at the height of the drop off while I turn my head to the left.

Did he spin? I wonder. He might have jack-knifed.

And then I see them. My breath catches in my throat. Just off the left shoulder, where the cops are carefully directing my lane of traffic, are two furrows in the grass. The car ahead of me drives toward black-as-night tire tracks perpendicular to our flow and I follow them with my eyes into those troughs, which arch out into the swale, across it, briefly disappearing as little more than flattened streaks of grass, reappearing on the far side, seventy or eighty feet away as trenches in the mud at a forty-five degree angle to the oncoming traffic. On that side, I think I can see more rubber on the road.

“Look, Mom. Just look,” I interrupt.

We drive for a minute or two in silence, and I imagine my mom is thinking similar thoughts to my own – I hope no one was hurt, but how could such a thing happen without injury? Or worse. – but what I say aloud is, “If we’d left on time, we might have been caught in that.”

The next day we drive as far as Texas, and sometime midafternoon we see another accident. I’m driving again, and on the far side of the wide grassy median there are two semis, both on their sides. The broken-neck look of the first makes it obvious it jack-knifed, but its angle on the road is what makes me curious.

“Do you think he spun?” I ask. “Or came over from this side?”

Mom has no answer to that. “Look at the blue one’s grill. It hit head on, whatever happened.”

A sick feeling fills the back of my throat. I’m wondering about these drivers, giving voice to my concern, but I’m also thinking, “Third time’s a charm,” and wondering if we’ll be part of the next one.


For the first time all trip, I fall asleep for about thirty miles as we’re leaving New Mexico. This is remarkable because I’m notorious for falling asleep when I’m a passenger in the car. When my folks would drive down to get me in college – a ninety-mile trip home – I would be out before we hit the cit limits. I rarely get sleepy driving, but put me in the passenger seat, and I’ll start yawning. (Back seat? I’m out.)

Mom pulls over at the first rest stop in Arizona, the welcome center, to ask what path I want to take to Mesa. I vote for cutting through Winslow and take over the driving again. As we’re pulling out, my mom says casually, “Oh, you missed another semi-truck accident. Wasn’t too bad though.”

I was so relieved to find out we weren’t involved, I don’t remember anything she said about it.

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