Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Near Death Experience

I woke up late this morning. That's not unusual these days. The temptation to sleep late on cold mornings with a 21-pound cat on one's leg is a strong one. Other than that, I achieved what I wanted to achieve in the morning before leaving for work: Shower, put on clothes, feed cats.

I made it to my car by 8:29. I'm supposed to be at work at 8:30. It takes at least 25 minutes to get to work. I would be late. I decided to skip my morning coffee at Peet's and just drive straight to work. I took the "back way" toward Melrose and the entrance ramp of the 101 south. As I drove south on Ardmore, I noticed a miracle. The light at Ardmore and Melrose was green. The ratio of Melrose time to Ardmore time on that traffic signal is something like 5 to 1. There's usually a line of cars waiting to turn left in the morning. The situation today was truly something I had never seen before: I would not have to stop at the light. No need to even slow down. I was cruising down Ardmore with its 25mph speed limit at about 50.

My intention was to turn left on Melrose, drive a couple of blocks and enter the freeway. But when I was about four cars' lengths from the intersection, with its still-green miracle light, I noticed that I was nearly out of gas. So rather than slow down for the left turn that I was about to make, I instead kept up my high speed, intending to cruise across Melrose before the miracle light stopped being green.

Before I say what happened next, at least one of my readers will likely be thinking "Ali, aren't there three gas stations on Melrose between Ardmore and the freeway? If you needed gas, why would you not turn left?" Good point. But I was so groggy from lack of coffee and desire for more sleep that the presence of those gas stations did not enter my thinking; no, my only thought was that it's better to run out of gas on surface streets than on the freeway. I was running late and I had no time for gas, even if it is an essential part of automobile's functioning. Gas would wait until after work.

Back to my intention to speedily cross Melrose. When I was two car lengths from the intersection, I saw something in the corner of my eye, through my driver's side window. It was a big white car. Driving west (from my left) on Melrose. With no intention of stopping at the red light. Driving fast, really fast - at least 60. If I continued my path, the car would hit me, on the driver's side, with a death-causing or at least serious-injury-causing impact. But I saw the car and I hit the brakes hard, coming to a complete stop just beyond the crosswalk, inches from the speeding car. Addled, I paused to look at the light and saw that it was indeed green for me still. And the presence of many stopped cars on Melrose, in the eastbound direction, confirmed that it had been green for a while. I caught my breath and drove on, getting to work with no further adventure.

But what turns this incident into something worthy of public telling are the other circumstances. As in most mornings this time of year, my car's windows were fogged over when I first entered it. Today, as usual, my method of opening and closing all the power windows to wipe away the condensation only works halfway: the window fog is replaced with a misty cloudy filter. Also, the sun was particularly bright on this clear L.A. morning and was assaulting my eyes from the east. And I had forgotten to put on my sunglasses. So, just seeing the speeding car through my filtered, sun-assaulted window was a miracle. (The big white car that nearly murdered me was driving away from the sun, from the east, and thus had no such excuse.)

Finally, back to my gasoline logic. I have no way to confirm this without a carefully constructed scientific experiment but: If I wasn't so groggy and uncaffeinated, I might have logically decided to turn left. With no other traffic on my street in either direction, I would not have slowed down, but I would have had my car positioned more to the left. The tiny little mist-shrouded window of clarity through which I saw the big white car would have framed something else, perhaps a westbound seagull or a street fruit vendor starting out his day with the newest mangoes. If I had fallen asleep earlier, if I hadn't watched another episode of Psych on Hulu, if I hadn't woke up in the middle of the night to hydrate with sparkling raspberry water and clean up Seymour's floor vomit, then I would have been well rested. I would have turned left. Near death would have become a funeral and all of my Facebook friends would have had to come, because that's what you're supposed to do.

(Yes, I know that if I had slept well, I would have been somewhere entirely different at 8:31 but just let me have this one.)

1 comment:

Jason B. said...

I am glad you are not dead. Wow. That sounded scary. But "cold morning," I think not Mr. Melrose Hill.

Still it has been a long strange year. Take that old calendar down, we want you here in 2009.