Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fifty Per Hour

I was driving to see someone, only 162 streets and 82 avenues to go. She was a bit far, but not unbearably so.

Death, on the other hand, was amazingly close, frightfully so: mere inches away, it awaited me on the other side of this two-lane highway...it always strikes me at strange moments, how near death is. Just waiting for us. Death or at least ruin.

And it never goes away. As long as you live, it's just stalking you. Sometimes it's like a tangible thing, I see some optical illusion at high speeds and it seems like there's this streamer on the side of the road. It's almost like a neon snake, but of course I interpret it more ominously than that.

It's not a hallucination, just a strange sight in the corner of my eye that I notice now and again. It's not a thing, it's just the way lights flicker on bumpy highways and through the poles on concrete center dividers.

I'm making this confusing - there are the two things, the sense of death, and this...traffic serpent. Whatever you want to call it - it doesn't really deserve a name, it's just some flickering on concrete dividers.

The sense of death isn't a foreboding or anything, either. It's more...well, an awareness of the nearness of potential death.

At 50 miles per hour, oncoming traffic is coming at you at twice that: 100 m.p.h. That means an impact could very easily mean death, dismemberment, or at least a nasty bruise.

If there's not a center divider, it might be as much as a foot of space between lanes, maybe more. But that's not much. You could cause a head-on collision with the flick of a wrist.

And the difference of impact between a 50 mile-an-hour impact and a 100-mile-an-hour impact is more than you'd think. You've got something like 4 times as much energy at 100 than you do at 50. That means 4 times as much of whatever energy it takes to destroy you and your car, and a lot more time where the car is moving and out of control.

Crunch. You can't stop a couple cars without crushing a few sections of fender.

Snap. Breaking bones costs energy. I hope you're at least wearing your seatbelt, because you don't want to be thrown through your windshield, even if your collarbone breaks because you're buckled in.

All the energy you put into your car via the gas pedal has to come out: as things bending, things heating up, things squeaking, things shattering, sparks flying, loud noises. You get the picture; it's not a pretty one.

People mostly aren't thinking about these things, especially not the most dangerous of people - teenagers and middle-aged people in midlife crises. Or anyone else prone to irrational decision-making.

Then there's the other side of it: people who are too afraid to do anything daring, like drive over 50 mph. That's a bad thing if their fear's distracting, but at least they don't tend to speed.

I became aware of all this at my first post-college job: insurance. I was the guy who got to say "no" to people's claims. I used to chat with one of the adjusters who hit me with that factoid about energy. I guess in physics, the energy is velocity squared or something.

Don't quote me on that.

It's good to be aware of these things, but thinking about them on the road can be a bad idea. I try not to be too distracted while driving; I don't have a death wish. In fact, I feel I've got a lot to live for. I know which behaviors are high risk, I know how much pain an accident can cause and how much money it can cost, and I know when the insurance company will tell you it's your fault and your premium's going up.

Judging by the responses I'd get when I turned people down (and explained to them why they are considered at fault), it hurts almost as badly as a broken limb. Maybe worse.

That's why I didn't stay in that job for too long.

Where was I before I got sidetracked by death?

I guess I was driving. On wet roads at 45 m.p.h., in view of a lake. Lake Washington, one of several bodies of water that gives the city of Seattle its elongated, cramped shape. The other main one is the Puget Sound, which is a fjord.

And there are more besides, including a ship canal, but that's not important.

What's important is where I was going: Capitol Hill.

I never liked the area that much, not enough to live in, but it's in the city and Jan, this girl, had a nice apartment that she could also afford. I had grown up in the suburbs so it appealed to me less, but I liked the view of the skyline, and I sometimes envied that Jan had found a nice place with a halfway decent landlord.

That was better luck than I'd had.

So now I was going to see a woman I wasn't sure if I was really seeing. I was confused as hell, really, both as to what I wanted and as to what she was interested in.

I've never been good at knowing what I want, because even when, like with Jan, I was very interested in someone, I just didn't seem to get fully behind it very easily. Maybe I just needed to bite the bullet, but maybe those kinds of reservations are telling me something.

I could go on like this for hours. Actually I have already gone on for a month now, in my head.

It's disheartening. I'm starting to think I need to make cleaner breaks. Jump in for exactly whatever I want. Then stay if I like it and leave, if not. Like one friend of mine always said: fuck 'em then forget 'em.

I cringe at the thought, though. Even if a lot of sex without attachment sounds fun, it's just not what I'd call fulfilling. And I can't help but wonder if Joe's got any STD's, even though he is big on condom use. The things aren't perfect and eventually you'll run your number up if you're not careful. It's statistical, just like car insurance: high risk behavior.

But I suppose that if it's so hard to decide whether or not I want to date someone, I should probably just go elsewhere. Move on. Either that, or figure out what's hanging you up, and get over it.

Maybe I'll get over indecision someday, but maybe I just haven't met the right person yet. Of course, that goes down all sorts of other avenues: right one what? It can't be hard to find someone to have a short-lived but enjoyable relationship, can it?

Apparently, for me it is. And that's not for lack of trying. Seems I just go for the wrong type.

Or have in the past. I'm hoping to change it. Like I said.

Shit.

That was close, I didn't see the dog until it was six inches away from my fender. On the other side of me, anyway, just cleared it. He was heading down toward the water, and lucky for him there was no traffic from the other direction.

I guess that's enough thought for one drive, I'd better pay attention to the road.

[mostly written Feb. 4]

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