Wednesday, February 11, 2009

California Route 163

“Observe perpetually.” These words echo through Sterling’s mind as she drives downtown on Historic Route 163. They are the words Hank repeated at the writers’ workshop. After another week and another twenty pages written, Sterling is heading back to the artist’s loft on 13th Street for a read and critique session. While driving, she grows frustrated. What can she possibly observe that is of enough interest to write down? The world passes at such speed. Hotel Circle. Old Town. Friars Road. University Avenue. There must be trillions of details she cannot observe, can only imagine: the woman reading a secret memo in the lobby of the Travel Lodge, the man bending over to pick up a wallet he finds in a saloon, the security guard at Bed, Bath, and Beyond scratching his balls when no one is looking, the men kissing in the “ladies” room at The Alibi; and these are only the surface details. Ah, what Sterling could do if she could actually observe these details and then probe the interior of each moment, each life, to get to the psychological mystery of the minutiae. Then she feels like she may be able to write, to put pen to paper and push upon something profound.

But she spends most of her time behind the wheel. When she is not writing, she’s driving a cab. And life presents little more to her than perpetual signs, perpetual signals, perpetual lanes, perpetual windows, perpetual lots, perpetual shocks of trees and buildings and seaside that may be empty for all Sterling knows of the life in them. There is no psychology. Only blink, blink. A pot hole. Some jerk merges. A car spins out of control and seems to head straight for Sterling’s face. She screams and sees red for a moment. Then more crashes and a weird thud heard around the world. When Sterling was scratching her head over what the hell there is in this world of interest to observe, she should have been observing her speed, or the “two-second” rule, or any warning signals from the other lousy drivers. But how could she have observed that the six-car pile up on this rainy day was caused by a man in an old Dodge Magnum, a guy named Fats Cajon who was listening to Jazz 88 and attempting a circle of fifths, T. Monk style, on his dashboard while using his knees for the steering wheel. He had been imagining jamming the solo when he swerved. Then he overcorrected. Six cars involved were all following one another too closely. Not only is Sterling a careless observer of the details of the road, but she also lacks an informed historical consciousness. Little does she know that in the very place where her car slammed into the wall of the Cabrillo Bridge is where there used to be a man-made lagoon into which seventeen people threw themselves to their deaths in the early 1930s. At the time, the locals called this method of suicide “the leap into eternity.” When Sterling crawls out of her mangled cab with minor bruises and bumps and checks in with the other victims of the crash and the cops and gets the story of Fats Cajon’s carelessness, she feels sorry for the guy. Then the police officer writing the accident report introduces Sterling Smith to Fats Cajon, right there on the side of the road amidst barricades, flashing lights, and crawling traffic. When Sterling meets Fats face-to-face, she sees eternity in the Jazzman’s eyes. She feels an urge to leap.

1 comment:

E.S. Wynn said...

I really like your writing style! It flows, it moves in a way that's just plain gorgeous.

Excellent piece!