Commuting in Hell

So you’re driving along and it’s been a day. ‘Hump day’, that’s what we call it; the dead center of the week when you’re just trying to get past the mass of the 40 hours you have to put in to get to your weekend. But hump day is all done, and you’re looking forward to kicking back a little. Tired mind still alert to the traffic on all sides, reaching for the dial to change the radio station because that annoying announcer just came on, and

all of a sudden the world gives way beneath you.

The brain is slow to grasp that the world is tilting. It immediately rejects the impossibility of the situation in which you find yourself, even as things start to fall down.

Bridges don’t collapse. Life doesn’t fall apart this suddenly. Cars don’t go skidding into the abyss, people screaming, the ground beneath yawning open… this only happens in a horror movie. And as you lose control of your vehicle and watch the water swing up, and chunks of the bridge you trusted unthinkingly to hold your car’s weight begins to fall down on top of the people in the river below, your brain’s just shrieking like a conductor before an orchestra, “No, no! This is all wrong!” Like it can bring order to the chaos that’s already happened, before the world goes black.

You likely read it on the news. A bridge buckled and collapsed in Minneapolis in the middle of the evening rush hour. People driving along on that bridge suddenly experienced what must have seemed like an earthquake, and then several cars were dropped 60 feet into the Mississippi river. A train also fell down, and 18 construction workers were hurled among cars and debris as the bridge collapsed. Some of the cars were buried under pieces of the bridge.

I know thousands of people everyday find themselves in a situation where the world falls out from under them. Something completely unexpected broadsides you right off your contented life course. Unexpected death, an accident, the inexplicable crossway of unforeseen events coming together; and life is never the same again. But this is so literal; the world literally fell out from underneath these people. And this keeps pinging in my head: The unbelievable horror of those moments.

What if you did survive? I might just move away. I might change everything, so this incredibly random encounter with my own powerlessness didn’t become the center point of everything: before the bridge and after. I dont know if I’d want to be labeled a survivor. Freak accident? Come on, this is a bad joke from an unbenign destiny. I might well turn my back on the whole, bloody thing. Just ignore it for the rest of my life.

Because that’s overkill. Okay God, gods, deities, giant alien in the sky, I understand man’s hubris at imagining for even one moment that he controls his own destiny. We like to power around in our little motorized vehicles, swallowing up the miles of the earth with our sunglasses on. We duck the world’s climate with temperature controlled boxes for living space. We duck the grand design of creature killing creature to eat. No one kills us for a snack on this planet, unless… you know, the world falls out from underfoot and something’s gone terribly awry.

But. But. This is the life we lead, the life passed down to us by family, friends, people. It’s freaking unfair to be confronted by such disaster, to know in an instant how powerless you are to match up against the events at play. And don’t tell me that power comes from how you react to such situations, because when you’re busted and bloodied and sitting in a car filling up with water while the earth falls down on top of you, you have no recourse. Maybe… maybe you could weakly bend your fingers into a small, rude gesture, and laugh.

Because in some place in your head you have to be going, “You fucker” In a way that specifically condemns all that’s gone before and all that would have come after. All that struggle to learn how to master life, to talk, to live, to be contented, to love. All those hours of putting socks on, for chrissakes, to go to work to earn for your family, to fulfill that place in the world that seems to be yours though you’d dreamed of other things. I guess you might have to laugh. It’s funny just how not funny it all is.

And if you did survive, how does it not turn into a punchline, somehow? “A bridge fell down.”

“I fell off a bridge.”

What are the chances? What kind of awesome odds, what kind of stinking luck to be there at that moment in time? I mean, you could win the lottery twice over with that kind of aghast, writhing unlikelihood. But you didn’t, you know.

A bridge fell down. And you died, laughing.

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7 thoughts on “Commuting in Hell

  1. I actually couldn’t sleep last night because I was going through that exact scenario in my head. “what if it was me? what if my kids were in the car?” As a guy, my thought process turns to what my plan of action would be to survive, but really there isn’t much you can do if tons of concrete crush your car beneath the water.

    It is a wakeup call and it will ultimately save lives because there will be a renewed inspection of all major bridges and we won’t have another collapse for 20 years or so. That’ll be good. Someone will be held responsible and that will make some folks feel better. Tell that to the people in the cars yesterday though.

    Life is scary. Life is dangerous. You will not get out of it alive. I have an active imagination so I can easily picture my death. I am intensely aware of my own mortality. But you’re right, if I managed to stop screaming long enough for a rational thought to enter my mind as the bridge fell from beneath me, that last thought would probably be, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

  2. Slothboy- You really empathize with the things that happen to people, huh? That’s sort of a blessing and a curse. I stopped watching the news for awhile because all the images were kind of desensitizing.

    Yeah, the survival instinct. I have a friend, an aviation instructor who read this and he said that the immediate survival instinct was a critical part of the response that I didn’t put in here. He thought the cosmic stuff was unrealistic, and particularly ‘you fucker’. He said that in his training he’s listened to a lot of recordings of people in the cockpit right before there were problems and they always did one of two things: said ‘shit’ or whistled. Everyone understands the ‘shit’ thing; if there’s a fatal error with your plane, ‘shit’ does immediately come to mind, but no one’s quite sure why these guys always whistle.

    Sounds like the birth of an ozark figure of speech. ‘He didn’t know whether to shit or whistle.’

  3. Several weeks ago I was driving into NYC and the evening rush was beginning. As I reached the Lincoln Tunnel there was little traffic movement at all. Before the entrance to the tunnel you descend a huge six lane 360 degree circular bridge. Once I was on the bridge and barely moving it began to literally bounce up an down. As I surveyed the gridlock I was stuck in I realized there was no way out and if the thing collapsed, well that would probably be it. Obviously it didn’t and since then I’ve timed my trips to avoid gridlock but if I were going to die in my car I’m pretty sure I know what I would be thinking beforehand. I always have music on when I’m in the car and the Lincoln Tunnel experience was just another one of those situations where I thought, as I have many times before, if my car is to become my tomb, I wonder what song will be playing when it comes to pass.

  4. “All that struggle to learn how to master life, to talk, to live, to be contented, to love. All those hours of putting socks on, for chrissakes, to go to work to earn for your family, to fulfill that place in the world that seems to be yours though you’d dreamed of other things”

    best part. thanks for adding this in a day where everything seems hopeless, but we must continue forward.

  5. Bong0- and I think your brain finds a lot of vivid material to keep it going on overtime as it is. But I’m just guessing.

    Mark- I like that… what song will be playing. Yeah, you had the survival response too. Tunnels kind of freak me out. I think I’d rather die from blunt trauma then anything involving an enclosed space.

    Well, these are some morbid thoughts.

    somethingisfishy- ty, tyvm.

  6. I just realized I always forget one of the “i’s” in your name when I type it. Sorry about that. I suck.

    anyway, Amuirin, that is very perceptive. I am insanely empathetic. I did one of those personality tests one time and I rated almost as high as possible on empathy. I was cautioned then that I needed to be careful because if you are empathetic and also overly trusting you can get misled easily. Because I am aware of it I can regulate it.

    The advantage is that it does give me a more rounded view of the world. Because I can imagine what other people feel it helps me relate to my fellow humans. People tend to rely on me as a mediator for that reason. The down side is that sometimes I can’t sleep. But it explains why I will generally be found on the humanitarian side of most debates. People first.

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