3:00 p.m. in my little hamlet is a heavy traffic time. School lets out and the landscapers call it a day, so the mini-vans and trucks with trailers pile into a long row of idling gas gourmands. One traffic light in particular, where the McDonalds drive-thru, two gas stations, a freeway exit and a super K-mart dump into the stream, presents a lengthy process of light changes and traffic folding in on itself. Our commute is about fourteen minutes, so we accept this snarl with relative good humor.
A disturbing social study presents itself in this little cluster-fuck. Not a quarter mile away are the fire and police stations. So, added to the drowsy chaos of this intersection is the occasional emergency call. Yesterday, over the dulcet tones of NPR's top-of-the-hour news, I hear sirens coming my way. Even though we're bumper to bumper, I begin my squirm to the side of the road. This is what my Driver's Ed teacher taught me to do some twenty-five years ago, and its an act I've performed out of instinct ever since. I have some trouble completing the procedure, though, because neither the car in front, nor the car behind, is giving an inch. My gaze lengthens and I see that no one, not a single other car in either direction, is moving from their spot in traffic. All the body-less heads behind the wheels are craning around in an elaborate show of Gosh, huh? Oh, is that coming my way? Goodness, I wish I could move my car out of the way but I...Maybe I'm hearing things. Who goes there? ooh, I seem to be stuck here because no one is moving...
The ambulance and fire truck are visible and blaring not only sirens but those horns that sound like a full bladder, unmistakably urgent and pleading, downright demanding - GET OUT OF THE WAY, TURD-LICKERS!! - But still, the ignorant heads waggle in rearview mirrors. What me? Surely you don't mean me? Oh dear, I hope no one is dying...if only my hands could operate this steering wheel...
The fire engine, fifty feet of cumbersome steel, is performing acrobatic maneuvers of agility and haste, as it attempts to advance through the clot of apathy and sloth. I've gone from mild asperity to detonation. My kids love it when I lose my shit and its not directed at them, so they're completely aroused in the back seat. "What is it mom? What are they doing wrong? Are they bad drivers Mommy? Are they going to jail? Are people dying?" They are delighted and hopeful about all of it. I've rolled down my window and I'm yelling at the cars, "MOVE IT OVER DOUCHE-NOZZLE!"
"Mama, what's a doosh-noggle?"
The ambulance has moved into the intersection and plunges into the oncoming lane, where traffic too should be stopped, but instead cars have used the tiny break provided by the emergency vehicle to advance their own position. More blaring of horns and weaseling.
This conduct represents a fundamental break in the social contract. Is it not incumbent upon us all to move our fat cans over, because some day it could be one of us hanging upside down by our seat belt in a drainage ditch? Is this not a most basic act of human compassion?
How I wish this was an anomaly of my little intersection, or this day, or that emergency call. But I've seen this exact scene play out dozens of times. Its always the same, the drivers stuck in the tractor beam of their own selfishness.
Who can be bothered for the hypothetical guy bleeding out into his stomach, or the grandma whose had a stroke in her bathroom, because, well, fuck them; there are roots to be dyed and those videos aren't going to return themselves.
You'd think the post 9-11 doctrine would provide for a basic understanding of emergency etiquette. We're all in awe of the plane that lands on the river and over pumped on hero worship, city's finest and all that whoopdie-shit, but when it comes to scooting over to the right, well that's a little inconvenient and may not benefit me, so its out. God bless America.
As the fire truck at last moves past me, I notice the most amazing thing. The guy driving the truck is not the least bit miffed. He's not banging the wheel or rolling his eyes. He's not flipping the bird or bouncing up and down in his seat. Nope. He's calm as a librarian in there, moving through what is just another day at the office for him. I feel my hero worship swell.
He's doesn't want to kill these people, he wants to save them. The selfish, the ignorant, the indifferent, they will all be saved.
Either that or he's all too glad to let them burn.