It was close to midnight and
I was pulling out of the rescue squad parking lot on my way home. It wasn't
my regular duty night; I was just riding extra in hopes of getting a few
more driving reports in the final stages of my progression to emergency
driver. I'd had the occasion to drive a wee bit on the fast side earlier
in the evening when several units were dispatched on a car accident with
multiple head traumas. Away screams the heavy rescue truck, off goes the
ambulance, and I'm driving the medic. But the airbrake won't disengage.
I watch the other units go screaming off into the night as I futilely
push the button to disengage the brake. On rare occasions this can happen
to vehicles with air brakes; you have to rev up the motor to build up
pressure before you can take the brake off. To my immense relief, the
brake suddenly comes off, and I pull out with lights and siren going.
The other units have a substantial head start on me.
Before I learned to drive the
ambulance I'd never been at the wheel of a vehicle this massive. Early
on I worried that I would be intimidated by the vehicle's bulk and become
a tentative, slow driver. So I made a conscious effort to get comfortable
and drive the ambulance at reasonably normal speeds. My efforts paid off,
but I may have overcompensated slightly. After sitting in the copilot's
seat on a call I drove, my night crew officer told me I did fine but "could
lay off the adrenaline a little." It seems my tendency is now to
drive a wee bit faster than is best for a new emergency driver. I've actually
been working very hard to slow down on calls and drive with only a judicious
measure of haste.
In this case, however, it seemed
speed was appropriate. So (with the legally-required due regard for safety)
I stepped on it. I felt a certain measure of pride when I saw the lights
of the squad up ahead. Before we made it to the scene, I had caught up
with the other units on the call.
But as I pulled out of the
parking lot in my own car later that night (feeling ridiculously low to
the ground in comparison with my perch in the ambulance) I was thinking
about my long history of ruined and abandoned friendships. I have a hard
time keeping them alive and viable over time, and occasionally I feel
a certain regret for all the relationships lost along the way to now.
I turned out into the street
and was momentarily distracted by the search for a decent radio station.
I broke off our antenna a month or so ago -- the second I have dispatched
in a singularly uncoordinated maneuver I can't bear to describe here --
and although it seldom makes any difference in downtown DC, the audio
quality begins to degrade out in the burbs. Before long I'd abandoned
hope of getting a consistent signal until at least Western Avenue. Those
silent rides are killing me. With no music to distract I'm left to ponder
things like why my friendships inevitably founder and disintegrate.
There must be some common factors
to the declines. If I could identify them I could begin to counteract
them. And then it came to me: I need to survey my former friends and gather
more information on the topic. I'm sure I could put together a two-page
questionnaire on the quality of my friendship, its strengths and irritations,
as well as the various factors contributing to its eventual decline. I
could easily track down a dozen or so onetime pals through the web...
but would they understand the spirit of scientific inquiry in which I
sent them the survey and provide me with candid responses?
On Saturday we walked around
the neighborhood a bit, just enjoying the weather. It seemed like the
first weekend day in weeks on which I wouldn't have to head off to the
squad, and I hardly knew what to do with myself. From Q Street we could
see a mass of people in Dupont Circle, many of them attired in bright
yellow, like bicycle cops. "I'm guessing the good folks from Falun
Gong," I said. We started joking about a recent series of full-page
newspaper ads taken out in the Washington Post by Falun Gong followers,
which attempted to discredit Chinese reports that the faithful were setting
themselves on fire and engaging in other cultish insanity. The ads featured
several photographs released in the Chinese media, along with text that
attempted to draw attention to falsities in the photographs and media
reports. Unfortunately, the intense and vociferous quality of the text
did far more to paint the group itself as a lunatic fringe in my mind
than the Chinese government had been able to accomplish.
"What is this shadow?"
I chanted in drone staccato, mimicking the bizarre captions beneath the
ad's photographs of a man in flames. "Where is man in the left side
doing? What is the light source?" I'd been perfectly willing to believe
that Falun Gong was a bunch of laid-back Buddhist Tai-Chi practitioners
until I saw the otherworldly quality of their PR efforts. It had a certain
single-minded quality, a complete immersion in its own lingo and inability
to perceive how non-members would react to its version of reality, that
really did suggest a cultlike herd mentality. If even a single person
in their DC office had a lick of sense they would have killed that whole
ad before it ever saw the light of day.
As we drew nearer, we could
see snippets of text on the various signs held by the yellow-shirted people:
"state-sponsored" and "intimidation" and finally "Falun."
Despite our mockery of the group's lame-ass public education efforts,
I don't doubt that they're being leaned on quite unpleasantly by their
government. We sat for a while in the park watching the faithful distribute
literature and hoist their banners high for passersby. My own progenitors
the Quakers were certainly shat on for many a decade for being irritatingly
vocal about the beliefs. I should have a painfully soft spot for Falun