Small Town, Friday Night

This happened long ago, on a Friday night in a small town where I taught high school. It’s the most sickening feeling I’ve ever had. I hoped it would never come again, but I feel it every day now.

I was bicycling across town to take a book to another teacher I was sweet on. There were no lights on the back road, no lights on the only highway through town either. The only light there was came from the high school football game, far behind me, as I pedaled toward the dry wash at the bottom of a very short, steep hill.

Suddenly a man’s worn-out suitcoat flapped against my left elbow: a drunk staggering down the center line toward the football game. I nearly creamed the guy. Visibility was zero.

At that moment a pickup truck came flying over the hill at the top of the wash. It really was flying — going so fast it left the pavement. The drunks inside it laughed as it flew through the air and landed, straddling the center line.

I pulled off the road into the wash and knew at once that that old man was dead, and there was nothing I could do about it. If I yelled at the driver, it might distract him, and ruin the slight to no chance that he might see the old man in time. I stood there straddling my bicycle, one foot in the sandy wash, and felt sick to my stomach. The truck hit something that sounded hard and soft at the same time. Then skidding tires. I looked back and the truck had skirled around to a 45-degree angle. The laughing stopped. There was nothing I could do.
I pedaled up the hill and saw a cop writing a guy a ticket in the church parking lot. Both men were out of their cars, arguing. I pedaled up to them until my front wheel was nearly between them and the cop gave me a dirty look. I pointed down the hill. You could see the red taillights of the skewed truck. “That’s more important,” I said.

The cop jumped into his squad car and drove down into the wash.

That’s how I feel every day now. The old man walking blind drunk down the center of the road is our president. The pickup flying over the hill is reality. When reality hits it will not just be an old blind drunk; it will be our country. And there is nothing I can do.

I pedaled over to my friend’s house, but she was out. On the way home there were two cop cars parked at the bottom of the wash. Someone had thrown a blanket over the corpse. They had to work fast, to get the body out of there before the football game ended and half the town drove by.

I pedaled down to the new cop and stopped and he gave me a dirty look too.

“I saw it happen,” I said. “They’re drunk. The guy never had a chance.”

I didn’t think of legal liability or standards of proof or anything. It was obvious.

I gave the cop my name and address and he said someone would be in touch. I headed home toward the lights of the football field. I wanted to get home before the game was over too.

A day or two later a detective came to my house. I invited him in and he didn’t even ask any questions. On my breakfast table he spread out photos that the cops had taken of the dead man and the truck full of drunks. There was the dead man, blood all around his head. I didn’t need to see that. I knew it before it happened. Why was he rubbing my nose in it?

Then the detective laughed.

I understood he was used to seeing stuff like that, but what was he laughing at?

He made me sick.

That detective was our country. Not then. Our country today.

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