In Cars

We needed yellow paper. It was a bit past 10pm and we needed yellow paper. In suburban America, it was a bit past 10pm and we needed yellow paper.

Naturally, we headed out to Wal-mart.

We went the "back way" to avoid construction. Even the "back way" to Wal-mart is six lanes wide. We sat in the left-turn lane as cars rushed past on the right and the left. The three oncoming lanes were busy with cars travelling from the shopping centers beyond the new tollway before us to the neighborhoods behind us. One truck, though, was in a hurry to get to Wal-mart.

It was a Ford F-150 King Ranch Edition, sage green. Such was its hurry that it deemed it necessary to turn into the parking lot from the center lane. For a moment, the small, nondescript black sedan in the right lane went unnoticed. We saw the truck as it was intercepted by the car, its forward motion interrupted by a force that sent it back into its original lane, then into the left lane as its front axle collapsed and its frame rails gouged the asphalt, emitting a shower of sparks. It finally came to rest just feet from us, on the other side of the grassy, concrete-bound median. The truck had traveled just far enough down the road that from the turn lane, we could finally see the source of the unexpected force vector. In the right lane, the black car sat, overturned.

All over, flashers came on, and men emerged from cars. Cell phones appeared. We converged on the dark, dripping, disheveled heap. A dozen hands on the scarred sheetmetal lifted. The passenger slid out, dazed. Petrochemicals were dripping, filling the air with fumes. From my position at the front of the car I looked right, toward the cabin, as the former vehicle stood on its side. A dark, glistening blotch spreading on the arclit pavement turned my stomach, and I quickly looked back at my own car, still in the turn lane beyond the now empty truck. I recruited a replacement and recrossed the road, directing traffic as I went.

The pebbles of glass crunched under the tires as we finally parked. Christina went to complete our errand, and I walked back to the site as sirens drew near. Under a small tree, neatly ringed with wood chips, I met an old friend in an new uniform. APD Officer and Hays High alumnus Eric Deba took down my account of the accident. We left just as the trucks carrying the remains of the vehicles did.

On my next commute to the office, a small gray woman in a large red van almost reenacted the same scene with me when she mistakenly believed her lane permitted left turns.

Be careful out there.

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