Michael sat staring at his computer, discouraged by the constant bombardment of bad news. Some channels had people arguing with one another about politics. Their heads populated boxes that looked like a “Brady Bunch” show introduction. First, they would squabble at each other, and then over one another. Other channels showed reality stars speaking one-way conversations among themselves. They would rant about money, relationships, and even rage against their own faults. Other channels held reruns of old movies that had been massively edited and filled with commercials.
Attempting to escape the nonstop anger he came and hid in his office with his laptop, desperate to find something positive to fill his mind. Here too he saw nothing but hatred. Friends would banter politics on social media. Not to foster creative dialog but garner likes on whatever social media tool they were using. Most websites contained articles known as click bait. The headlines would seem intriguing, but often held stale facts and in some cases outrageous lies. The website owners did not really care if people read the content. They just wanted the mouse clicks to satisfy their advertisers, and get their payday.
Wholly discouraged, Michael decided to go for a drive. Indeed, on such a sunny day he could find refuge in his automobile. After all, driving had been a passion since he got behind the wheel of an electric toy car as a toddler. Then came his learner’s permit and finally his driver’s license. He remembered it like yesterday. It was the best day of his life. With a smile on his face, he walked out to his Nissan, popped open the sunroof and headed towards the freeway.
It was the perfect day for a drive to the mountains. He turned Pandora to his favorite seventies channel and relaxed as he made his way up the on-ramp. Looking over his shoulder, he confirmed his blind spot was clear and merged into traffic. He wasn’t sure where the black SUV came from or even what kind it was. All he could see the grill quickly speeding up the right lane and slowing slightly behind his bumper. Michael checked his speed. He was right on seventy, the speed limit. Surely the driver would go around if he was in a hurry. After all, traffic was light.
The SUV began flashing his lights, indicating Michael should move out of his way. Since he was in the right lane, Michael had no intention of moving. The driver honked their horn. Perhaps there was something wrong with his car. He began to slow down and check his instruments and mirrors. Maybe there was something caught under the chassis. With a touch of a button on his wheel, the radio went silent. While Michael evaluated his vehicle and SUV swung into the left lane and roared by. His car seemed okay, and his foot pushed the accelerated back up.
Michael finally relaxed. “Maybe the SUV was in a hurry and didn’t realize the other lane was clear.” A mile up the road the same car that had tailgated his Nissan was now almost touching the bumper of another vehicle. Clearly, the driver felt annoyed. This time he drove along stuck in the right lane because there was a car next to him. Michael eased up and got in the left lane to pass. He could hear the angry driver honking at the slower car in front. The Toyota two-door blocking the enraged driver’s way opened his window and gestured to the sizable vehicle behind. This resulted in a similar response from the other driver. Maybe it was instinct, or a desire to escape the madness around him. Michael eased off the gas, got in the right lane and let the drivers push ahead. After all, he was trying to escape all the hatred and anger.
He never saw what started the crash. Judging from the nosedive of the SUV Michael surmised the little Toyota had enough. Everything appeared in slow motion as he hit his brakes and eased his Nissan to the shoulder and slightly to the grass. A few yards ahead of him, the collision to the rear of the smaller car caused it to swerve left into a minivan. The van bounced left into the median wall, and the driver overcompensated to the right. The momentum made the blue minivan flip. Glass shattered and what looked like a child’s toy flew from the window. The small Toyota swerved right to miss the returning van and was hit again by the impatient driver who had now lost control of his SUV. The compact car spun around from the impact to its rear quarter panel and came to a stop. The angered driver who had pushed the herd of vehicles into the collision had given up retaining control and t-boned the inverted van. Everything on the freeway stopped.
Michael dialed 911 and turned on his flashers. The atmosphere was eerie when he emerged from his car. Drivers stood outside their vehicles on cell phones calling for EMTs, and others began to video the tragedy before them. Michael checked on the Toyota. The woman driving the car was sobbing but unharmed. He walked over to the minivan. The SUV sat partly inserted into the passenger side door. He could see blood dripping against the imploded door frame. Weak crying could be heard underneath. He peered inside the SUV. The airbag had softened the impact, but the driver sat catatonic, unable to comprehend what had just occurred.
Praying for a miracle Michael got down on his knees and peered inside the van. His brain panicked at the horror before him. It took all his courage not to run screaming or collapse into a sobbing heap. A baby hung upside down in a car seat. Its eyes were open, and the child appeared to breathe. Michael wondered why it wasn’t crying. A young mother in the passenger seat was unconscious. The SUVs bumper against her shattered skull. Blood poured from her wound and Michael was not sure if she was even alive. The father hung unconscious with his arm bone exposed and impaled in the airbag.
Someone held Michael’s shoulder. “Sir, is anyone alive?”
Michael looked up and saw the concerned eyes of a Highway Patrolman. He began to sob. “I don’t know.”
The officer helped him up and began to yell at another officer. “John, get the Fire Department in here now! We need EMTs!” Michael saw Lawrence on the Patrolman’s nameplate. “Officer Lawrence, please look after those people, I’m okay. I was behind the accident.”
“Okay, sir. Do you see that fire truck?”
Michael nodded yes.
“Go over there and tell them Officer Larry needs them to give you some water, and wait there. I will need your statement.”
The door of the SUV opened, and a man came stumbling out. “Where’s that idiot that wouldn’t get out of my way! This is all his fault! He deserves a good butt-kicking!”
Larry looked over at Michael. “Did you see what happened?”
“Yes, sir.” Michael could feel his anger and despair fight against his self-control. “This maniac has pushed people along in the right lane since I got on the freeway. It started with me. I don’t know if he was afraid to pass people, but he finally went around and up the road a mile or so back. When I saw him with this group of cars, he was tailgating and honking at the driver of the wrecked Toyota over there. The two eventually collided and this happened.”
The SUV driver was not going to have any part of the blame. “What does this guy know? He wasn’t in the wreck! It isn’t my fault these idiots go too slow. Maybe if they didn’t bunch up, I wouldn’t have hit that guy!”
An EMT walked up to Larry. “I don’t know started this, but on the bumper of this SUV is the head of a dead mother, around age twenty-five. The father will survive physically, but I’m not sure emotionally. The baby miraculously appears fine. If you call losing her mother fine.”
Larry turned to the SUV driver, and Michael stepped back. “Sir, place your hands behind your back. You’re being arrested for reckless driving. I’m sure the DA will be adding to that.”
“What!” The driver yelled. “Why is this my fault! I wouldn’t have hit that stupid little car if people had just got out of my way. I have as much right to the road as they do!”
Michael went over and sat on the bumper of the fire truck. He bowed his head. “God, please help us learn to love again. Please don’t let me get this angry.”
He looked up and saw the unconscious father being pushed on the stretcher passed the Highway Patrol car with the angry SUV driver yelling behind the closed-door from the back seat.