May 26, 1999 | Slipping, Sliding
At 7 in the morning, my twelve-hour shift at the ambulance is over. Thus far, it seems a lot of calls come in just as I'm getting ready to leave, and I hop on the ambulance and go along. The squad frowns on people who try to slip out of the building and duck a call in the morning, although they know that many people, unlike me, have real jobs they need to get to. Anyway, I'm eager for the experience and love the chance to get in one last ride. If I manage to get out early without a call, or oversleeping, or having a dead car battery and needing a jump-start (as I did this morning), the drive is a peaceful pre-rush-hour jaunt. There's something blissful in being out in the early morning, even in a vehicle, sliding through the trellined roads towards home. Sometimes I find Susan awake, the smell of coffee filling the house, and we plop on the couch to talk about how we spent our evenings. Sometimes she's still asleep, and I have the pleasure of stealing upstairs in my goofy uniform and waking her up. Because the universe stalwartly refuses to be perfect, my hands still carry the ugly smell of latex gloves.
The drive from home to the squad is somewhat less peaceful. I leave the house some time after 6, and fit myself into the angry waddle of DC commuters picking their grim way out of the city and back to their suburban homes. It is an angry and ugly processional. I surf the radio for the meanest music I can find, immersing myself in this temporary taste of commuter life.
Last week I drove up to the squad through the first rain the area had seen in well over a week. I felt like my very flesh needed the moisture as much as any plant growing in the garden. The smell suggested afternoon naps. It was Saturday afternoon, and the roads were mostly clear. I listened to Billy Bragg telling me, as he so often does on these drives, that I'm an accident waiting to happen. With fresh rain falling on dry road, I wondered if I'd be going out on a car accident that night.
Passing through B-ville, only blocks from the squad, a man in a gold luxury car pulled out right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and felt the terrible moment when the tires release the road and cast of the burden of friction. The car slid forward toward the gold sedan, fishtailing ever so slightly as I steered into the skid and pumped the brakes. The sedan stopped halfway into my path, like a deer stuck in my headlights -- thanks, buddy. A very long time seemed to pass, in which I felt very little fear. You never know what will go through your mind at such times. What went through mine was that I was about to have a car wreck three blocks from my fucking squad and would have the ridiculous honor of having my colleagues clean me out of this fucking car. Why couldn't I just have been in this wreck back in the District?
Then the brakes bit down, and I was no longer a missile. I even had time for a jaunty little toot on the horn as I steered around the other car. Then came the terrible flush of adrenaline, like a summer storm breaking loose inside my body. I was shaking as I pulled into the squad parking lot.
We ran all night. Sunday morning I let the Coke machine behind the building deliver me some socially-sanctioned stimulants for the bleary drive home. It clunked and groaned for quite some time before finally ejecting a plastic bottle. It sounded deeply conflicted about what it was doing. Sipping my Coke and driving with one hand on an early Sunday morning, I practically had the road to myself. The scene of my near-violence the day before was now just an open stretch of roadway, unremarkable and easily forgotten. I was having trouble remembering in what order the calls had come the previous night. One of them seemed to be absent from my memory entirely; I couldn't make the number of calls match up with the calls I remembered. Somewhere before the District line I stopped trying, and drove home through this blissful erasure.