Exit Music (For A Film)
Is it a harbinger? A warning sign? Does narrowly escaping a massive accident increase or diminish one’s likelihood of being involved in another?
It’s barely five o’clock. The sky is light and streaked with clouds. I am in the back seat of a Lincoln Towncar. My Russian driver is driving quickly down the BQE. ‘Good,’ I think to myself, ‘At least I won’t miss my flight.’
I’m swearing at myself in my head, various profanity-laden versions of ‘Why me?’ I would rather be sleeping. Heat and humidity not withstanding, I’d rather spend the week in New York than Los Angeles. And so I berate myself my lot in life.
Our conversation has fallen still. I hear only the whiz of the tires, the rush of the air, and the voice in my head. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a gray Nissan zip by in the far right lane. ‘He must be doing 90,’ I think, and return to berating myself.
“Look at this, look at this,” my driver says.
I look between the seats to see the gray Nissan sailing sideways across four lanes in front of us. It strikes the median, and is slammed by another black Towncar. The Towncar pushes the Nissan sideways along the median for an instant, then flips it. Glass breaks. Sparks fly. Smoke trails. My driver breaks, and swerves, repeating, “Look at this, look at this.”
The crumpled gray Nissan comes to rest upside down, perpenticular to the road, and the Towncar. We pass slowly. I see a white sleeve flop from the the driver’s side of the NIssan. I avert my gaze. I do not want to see death this morning.
A few years ago, on another early morning trip to the airport, I passed a bicycle accident. The police had just arrived on the scene. The rider, who was helmetless, had been hit by a truck. He was motionless. Deep red, almost black blood was pooling around his head. I averted my gaze. I did not want to see death that morning.
The driver and I speak tentatively, breathlessly.
“I did not used to have these eyes,” he says. “When I see him pass us, I think, ‘Look out for him.'”
We are rattled, the both of us.
“Thanks for keeping me safe,” I say.
He waves off my gratitude.
“Just like that,” my driver says in broken English. “Someone is dead.”
We drive on, more tentatively than before. I notice that I’m not wearing my seatbelt, and imagine my trajectory within the confines of the Towncar. I realize that some other business traveler, likely staring out the windown himself, berating himself his lifestyle, was ripped from his thoughts by the sickly sound of metal on metal.
At JFK, the driver steps out, grabs my bag from the trunk, and hands it to me. I reach out my hand to his, and we shake, looking each other in the eye for the first time. His hands are large and doughey. His handhsake is firm.
“Thanks a lot, sir,” I say. I step away from the curb towards American Airlines flight 201, already exhausted from a long morning that hung for just an instant on two car lengths.