Sunday, August 17, 2008

on the bridge last night, coming home

Leaving the bar last night, I asked my friend if he needed a ride home.  He first offered to take the bus, but realizing what a long hassle that would be for him at that hour, I gave him a ride up to Divisidero from Downtown.

Around 2:30 I was on the freeway, heading towards The Bay Bridge, feeling satisfied with the events of the evening, not a pull from either San Francisco or Oakland, just moving along towards my bed as I do most nights.  

The ride was smooth until just beyond Treasure Island where the bridge became lit up red with brake lights and traffic skidded to a complete standstill.  Quickly, I slowed into the gridlock.  I could tell something was abnormally wrong and pulled into the far right lane, as close as I could bring my car to the heavy bolts protruding from the steel railings of the bridge, while to the left of me everything was flashing blue and red, cars were inching sideways to clear the way for a fire truck, slowly pushing it's way through, an ambulance following behind.  

The horns and sirens echoed off of the ceiling of the lower deck, and up above, cars heading towards San Francisco rattled as they passed by, and the bridge would settle now and again, as if it were complaining, letting out a creaking moan and then a sigh.  Dozens of stereos were mixing together, as the bar crowd, spilling out from North Beach and Downtown, The Mission and The Marina, became stuck all at once together.

A pickup passed by me, and the driver yelled, "Don't I know you," and kept going, then there was a sedan, with a tired looking black man, driving alone with the windows up, and then a coup full of blonde girls, laughing, pulsing with dance music, and speeding in behind the clearing left by the ambulance was a chromed out green SUV, vibrating with bass, a kid in a white t-shirt, sitting on the roof, his legs dangling in the sunroof, his friends with their doors opening, stepping out beside the car as it stopped.  The concerned scoffed and clenched their teeth, the like-minded shouted at them over the idling engines.  I knew we were all about to see something very fucked up, but looking at the scene, I had to laugh.

Sometimes it would be moving, and sometimes it would be a dead standstill.  I would pull my emergency brake and sit up on my open window, squinting forward to see if I could see the end, turning around to watch more fire trucks and ambulances pressing towards me between the myriad of vehicles.  I would duck back in and inch forward when traffic would move again, or when lane-splitting motorcycles were coming, engines roaring to warn of their approach.  At breakfast today, Sarah told me she saw East Bay Rats carrying paramedics on the backs of their bikes to get to the scene faster.  She had been there too, in another car somewhere.

As one song led into another and another on my stereo, I began to appreciate the details of the bridge beside me, the strength of it, the weight of it, the complexity of the construction, the tangling of wires weaving along the long beams.  From my perch on the window I could make out the lights of a large cargo ship moving slowly out into the bay, away from the hulking silhouettes of cranes at the Port Of Oakland.  When I was fully stopped for a few minutes, I opened my door and stepped out onto the pavement, around the front of my humming engine, and onto the step beside the railing of the bridge.

I leaned over and looked down into the darkness, splashes of light highlighting the ripples in the water far below me.  I breathed deep and looked out at Oakland flickering for a moment, and back down into the water.  It felt lonely.

Back in my car, I came to terms with whatever awful occurrence was waiting ahead.  I felt sympathy thinking of loss, I felt empathy thinking of pain, but my thoughts wandered still around the harmless tribulations of my own day, my own worries, however shadowed, still showing up between the heavy speculations.

After nearly an hour, everyone began to merge to the left.  I put my blinker on and fell in line, finding a soft and pleasant song to take me along.  Broken glass crunched beneath my tires as I followed the car in front of me around the pink flames of road flares.  

First it was the fire trucks and ambulances and cop cars lined up, lights silently spinning, and then, in the second lane, a Mercedes, its entire back half lifted and folded over towards the front, as if an impact had pressed the rear bumper up against the back of the driver's seat, exposing the underside of the car, the rear two tires lifted high up above the ground, and finally, along the railing of the first lane, an unidentifiable four door car, burnt clear down to the metal, inside and out, leaning up on the steel siding of the bridge.  

There were no people around the wrecked cars. There was no commotion.  It was all very quiet.  My windows were still down.  It was just a little cold, and though the wind was coming through, I could still smell the smoke.

At some point I was past it, the freeway stretched wide into five lanes and I accelerated, keeping my windows down.  A somber song came through my speakers to take me home, just vocals and piano and violin.

I got the nerve to look up the crash tonight.  There had been a man in the back of that Mercedes, where it had been compressed like a squeezed accordion.  The article called him a "Man" though he was only twenty-one.