Seattle traffic sucks. Day and night—all the time. Anyone who lives, goes to school, or works anywhere near the city complains about it. Whether they drive, bike, walk, ride the bus or watch it from their couch on King 5 news, the traffic brings people down… or in my case, ignites every suppressed fuse of rage I have accumulated in my 45 years of existence. No matter if I am wearing my Taxi-Mom hat driving my three kids to and from their assorted schools and sports commitments, my Dog-Walker/Trainer badge visiting my four-legged clients all over town, or my Errand-Runner uniform, the moment I start the car my angry fires begin to burn and I am ready to fight. It is me vs. every other driver on the road. I feel my lips purse, my jaw clench, and I’m sure my pupils dilate as my left hand squeezes the wheel and my right hand shoves the transmission into D.
A few days ago, I set off in my car to my chiropractor. It was the start of rush hour—4:05—on a drizzly gray and far too chilly day for late April. I had finished work an hour earlier and stopped at home to let my dog out for a pee and shove a handful of Tim’s Cascade Potato Chips into my mouth. I complained to myself about the weather (that’s the other thing everyone in Seattle complains about) as I rushed out the door licking the remnants of salt from my fingers. I realized that I had only 10 minutes to get to my appointment. During non-rush hours, Dr. Lui’s office is only six minutes away, but as I rolled to the stop sign at the end of my street and saw the double lines of cars that blocked my right turn, I would be lucky if I arrived in 20. Dammit, Amazon. Stupid technology industry—it’s ruining our city, I bemoaned to myself. I was ready to jump in the ring with Jeff Bezos and Paul Allen and the whole lot of those guys. Yet, I just breathed. A local station played some barely audible music beneath the squeaky windshield wipers as the minutes and the cars passed me by. I wondered if I should call Dr. Lui and inform her of my tardiness.
Reaching for my phone from my over-stuffed faux leather bag that is so heavy it enables the passenger airbags, I noticed the SUV blocking the intersection back up to make space for a car. Was she letting me in?! One of the few nice drivers left in this town, I thought as I smiled at her. Not my full, toothy, truly happy smile but a closed-mouthed grin that held back the words, “It’s about friggin’ time.” Then the blue car appeared, gunning a left turn in front of the SUV toward my street. Okay, cool—so Ms. SUV was making room for Mr. Azure to turn, not me. Whatever. My impatience bubbled as equally as my ire… until the black car sped from behind the line of cars and T-boned the blue car. All of my gripes and negative feelings shattered on impact into a slow-motion kaleidoscope of black, blue and silver shards, just a couple of yards in front of me. The vehicles slid another 12 feet onto the curb, missing my vehicle by inches and miraculously stopping before hitting a tree. Time also stopped.
A wave of absolute silence washed over my surroundings, cleansing every thought that led up to this micro-second. Everything disappeared except for those two mangled cars on the sidewalk. You must get out and go see if those people need help. The command to myself was clear. Who do I go to first?! The SUV lady answered that question when I saw her head toward the black car. I ran over to the blue one.
Now, of all of the hundreds of hats that I have worn in my life, I had never donned that of First Responder. I held my breath as I approached the drivers’ side of the blue car. The drizzle ceased and the sky grew brighter, changing from ominous to promising. Oddly, I felt calm, as if I were trained to do this. Though my nerves remained steady, I worried about what I might find when I peeked inside the car through the foggy window. Why was the window foggy? Condensation? Perhaps his defrosting system needed repair. The driver was hurt. The young man slumped over the deployed airbag, barely able to turn his head toward me when I knocked on the glass. I dialed 911 and opened his door slowly, relieved to not see any obvious blood anywhere. Smoke sizzled from the airbag, which concerned me, but didn’t seem to pose a risk of explosion. The man, disoriented and confused, held his left side and groaned, his complexion the tone of damp ash.
“Everything is going to be okay. The paramedics are on their way. I will wait here with you until they arrive.”
Did my words comfort him? Did he even hear them? I may never know. All I knew was that the most important thing in that moment for me was just to be there—to help in whatever way I was called to do so. It didn’t matter whose fault it was, what kind of life this man led up to this point, or what his future aspirations are—he is a fellow human, trying to make his way in this world, this life, this traffic—the same traffic I deal with and fight every day.
When the medics arrived and took over, Ms. SUV and I were asked to give our witness accounts and then we were released. Walking back to my car, a new flood of thoughts and feelings consumed me—Who were the loved ones of the victims? When would they get to go home? Will this cause financial hardship for them? I also felt sad that more people didn’t pull over to help. There must have been at least 10 eyewitnesses. I pondered what might have been more important for them to tend to: Kids? Parents? Jobs? Pets? Dinner? Happy Hour?
Before I drove away from the scene, I called my chiropractor and rescheduled my appointment. She heard the shakiness in my voice and asked if I was okay. I explained the situation and she was glad to know that the victims seemed to be okay aside from some shock and minor injuries. I headed home.
The next morning when I got back behind the wheel of my car, all I could think about was a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that goes something like this: “If you see a man lying on the side of the rode as you are rushing to your job, don’t ask yourself, ‘What will happen if I stop and I am late to work?’ Ask yourself, ‘What will happen if I don’t stop?’”
The traffic situation won’t change in Seattle anytime soon. In fact, it will probably continue to get worse. I have no control over that, no matter how angry I get about it. What I do have control over is my impact on the other drivers, aka the fellow humans around me. Oh, and Mr. Bezos, if you are going to take over our city, can we get moving with the flying cars, please?
Gina Cantara is a semi-self-employed Seattle mom and step-mom who enjoys (during her rare free moments) writing, running, hiking, trivia games, and is always seeking that “better” cup of coffee.