Tuesday, July 19, 2016


The driver must have been going really fast.  The passing lane on US 101 north of Hopland was about to end – it was a mile-and-a-half to the next one – and it wouldn’t be well to have to sidle in behind someone traveling slower, now would it? 

So this fellow just couldn’t be second; his now somehow more important than anything.  Anything!  Or, perhaps, as he raced along in his tiny red Civic or Corolla – by the time I happened along it was hard to tell – and because he’d gotten away with it before, he simply felt he was invincible.  He would live forever.  This thought would be proven irreversibly misguided in just moments.  And instantaneously.

Traffic had backed up only about a half mile from the scene, stopped first in one direction, then the other, choked down to one lane at the scene.  Damn!  Would I miss my appointment in Ukiah?  Approaching from the south, the rescue crew moved about their business in an incredibly slow and apparently deliberate manner.  They knew this: Why rush?

The battered car rested upright, doors shut tight but windshield violently punched out, beads of glass scattered into the open travel lane.  Almost blocked from view by a fire truck, the unfortunate lay, and except for his still-shoe-clad feet, fully covered by a yellow plastic tarp.  No ambulance was yet present, nor would there be any need for a Code 3.  Somberly, Highway Patrol, county sheriff, and first responder folks milled about above the covered carnage, writing notes and chatting.  Hushed voices, I assume.

Ninety minutes later, heading back down the highway, I find that the scene is clear except for a pair of wild, curving tire ruts and an arcing course of bowled over, dried weeds up and then down the embankment, and four spray-painted rectangles indicating where the sedan came to rest on its feet.


Passing by at speed, no one would know of the death of the invincible motorist.  It was all over in less than a heartbeat, and that last heartbeat was nearly two hours ago.

All over except for this: One of those peace officers would soon be knocking on a door or dialing up a telephone number, delivering a message no wife or husband, mother or father ever wants to receive.  For family that remains, time will stop.  A different definition of normal will descend on them waiting, sinisterly, to be embraced.

And after the paperwork, the officer will return to the beat and then home – likely not to sleep well this night.  Again.  Tomorrow?  He’ll be on patrol protecting us hoping that his yesterday does not repeat itself.

And by spring, the green grasses of winter will have covered up those ruts.

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Saw this sort of scene over and over again back when I was an EMT. The effects on the responders are also significant. Everyone involved is a victim.

  2. Replies
    1. It has been four years since this event and every time I drive past the scene, I think of the guy... ...and I slow waaayyyy down.