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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

On It's Back, Wheels Spinning Like A Cinema Classic

Great way to start the day: I'm at the bus stop, 20th & Union, waiting to catch a #2 to take me over the Hill to pick up my bus, which has been in the shop over the weekend. It's a brilliantly sunny morning, temperature already in the mid-60's.

In front of me at the intersection, an SUV stops to let a middle-aged gentleman wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat cross the street. I'm momentarily distracted by the glint of sunlight bouncing off his glasses has he turns to acknowledge the driver.

Then -

Screee - Bang! BANG! Tinkle.

I turn my head just in time to see three cars bouncing off each other like those little clacking metal balls people used to have on their desks: the SUV in front, a black Volvo in back, and a small green sedan caught between them. The woman driving the sedan already has her hand up to her neck, feeling the first twinge of whiplash. All of this happens not more than about 20 feet from where I'm standing.

Car collisions in real-life never sound like they do in the movies. There's generally no extended screeching of the brakes; no thrashing or rending of metal; no heavy-object-in-the-dryer tumbling end-over-end; no punctuating the sudden silence with the sound of a wobbling hubcap rolling down the road. Usually, it's just exactly what I described above: the short, high-pitched complaint of brake pads pressed too hard into the drums, cut short in mid-whine by the sharp report of plastic and metal merging. Maybe a small sound of broken glass falling to ground. That's about it.

It's all over in a fraction of a second, barely time to blink my eyes and wonder, "did I just see that?" the answer being of course, "yes, I did." The evidence lies all around me: shards of broken headlamp skittering to a stop against the curb just inches from my feet; pieces of shredded bumper and body trim flailing briefly on the asphalt like landed trout; the needs-to-be-ironed wrinkle of a crumpled hood; the asymetrical lean of a spare tire case.

With a timing that borders on synchronicity, a Pushman cart driven by a Traffic Enforcement Officer comes down the hill at the exact moment of impact; she probably saw the whole thing happen right before her eyes. She pulls over to the side of the road, as the other vehicles do likewise, everyone engaging in the "are you okay?" post collision ritual, while simultaneously digging through glove boxes and seat consoles looking for insurance information. Cellphones are unclasped and pictures of the damage are already being recorded. Nobody seems seriously hurt - at least at first glance. The PEO pulls orange traffic cones from the back of her cart and begins setting up a diversion, while a line of drivers attempt to either gingerly weave through the gauntlet of broken glass and metal, or else drive obliviously through it, the shards crunching beneath their tires like hard candy.

A two foot-long piece of black plastic lies in the roadway. A woman who's been standing with me at the bus stop cautiously steps out into the street, picks it up and carries it back to the curb, then drops it onto the green strip next to the sidewalk. In a few hours, it will probably be the only physical evidence left at the scene.

By now, the three drivers are exchanging information, making cellphone calls, getting their stories straight. The Volvo driver, a young woman who appears to be in her early 20's is appologizing effusively; she knows she was in the wrong, and has the temerity to admit it.

The bus arrives, and I step aboard, swiping my pass through the card reader, say "good morning" to the driver, and take a seat. As we pull away, an SPD unit is just coming down the hill.

Somebody's going to be late to work this morning.

Posted byCOMTE on 9:25 AM

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