True Encounters with Automobiles
Down Park Avenue I was out of the world, Rock filling my head, eyes in the middle
distance. Moments away from the intersection with seventeenth street I sense a rushing sensation ahead to my left. I look up to see a blurred car, a man flying through the air, above headheight, limply, dummylike.
Immediate thoughts: a man has jumped from the passenger side window of a car! Dramatic! Is he fleeing captors? Is he a devil of a dare? Has someone thrown a mannequin from a speeding car? Is this being filmed?
The screeching of hot rubber blends seamlessly with a woman's scream. The manfigure hits pavement and rolls... flops, really... toward the gutter and lies still on his side. Many people more responsible than I grab for cellular phones and press the same three numbers.
A New York City Transit bus has time to crawl through the intersection, in danger of tipping over what with all the passengers wadded against the horror-side window.
I continue across the street with all the other pedestrians, all of us pigeon-eyeing the new obstacle in our way. Spiritual brethren of the quick-phoners have rushed to the victim's side; one of them rashly
turns the man onto his back. I walk past, sideways, noting the expanding inky red pool spreading outward from that poor head, filling the spaces in the blacktop, a catastrophic inundation for the mites in the road. Where was he going? Who was waiting for him?
The driver appears shocked into calm. He stands next to his car, sits down into the driver's seat,
rolls his window down, opens the door, gets out of the car, paces, talks into a cellphone. Rising up to meet him is the windshield, lower right corner punched in, glass bent like plastic. There are practicalities to having probably killed a man. Is he talking to his wife or his lawyer?
Where was he going? Who was waiting for him?
When did we start thinking we were beyond blood sacrifice?
His giant Plymouth wore the exacting color of old-car camoflage and had no hubcaps. His wheel was cut hard to the left, and the ass-end of the beast was inching toward an open gate in a chain-link fence. Destination: a dirt driveyard that usually held a small, good-natured brown dog which didn't seem to deserve the prominent BEWARE OF DOG signs enforcing themselves on his character. Today the dog was either inside, or had fled from the horror currently trying to invade his world.
The man at the wheel was hunched and aged, white haired, big-eared, and desperately detached from the reality of his vehicle. Because of this, he was being assisted by a spotter. Perhaps he was the man's son; decades younger (though also pepperhaired), plaid workshirt, plaintive boom of a voice.
"Frank! You're too wide! You're too wide!" The younger man gestured frantically at the gate. The car wasn't going to make it through without catching some fence, no matter how slowly it happened.
"Frank! The gate, Frank!" The car, at this point, is still at least ten feet from hitting anything, but perhaps
the spotter has worked with Frank before. Frank inclines his head a little. It's unclear whether he's indicating that he's heard the warning or is pretending to be able to see anything behind the car. He mumbles something inaudible.
"Naw, Frank, there's, like, a foot stickin' out! You're gonna hit the gate, Frank!"
The car's engine goes thwucka thwucka thwucka thwucka in time with the muffler bouncing up and down. It continues to force the car reverseward, to certain slothful disaster.
"Aww geez, Frank, forget it. Let me drive! Let me park it!" Frank stays the course. The spotter flirts with giving up, exasperated hands go to his head, and he turns and sees me watching. I've been standing a few feet away, choosing not to
slide past the car along the sidewalk, choosing to watch this man's pain. I have a bottle of Mountain Dew. The spotter can't let this continue with spectators.
"Frank! You're gonna hit the GATE, Frank!" He's gone back into Cassandra mode.
I decide I'm doing more harm than good, and sneak past the car's nose on my way. Behind me I hear thwucka thwucka thwucka thwucka clank! thwucka thwucka. Frank has, finally, hit the gate.
"Frank, you hit the gate! Dammit, Frank, let me park it."
I round my corner and head for home.