Last Monday evening, I waited to cross Hollywood Boulevard, at a pedestrian crosswalk in Thai Town. It was well into rush hour, so stepping out onto the Boulevard of Broken Dreams at that time of night was like jumping into a fast river filled with logs. In theory – at these crosswalks, which are sprinkled across the boulevards of Los Angeles – all you have to do is start crossing the street, and the drivers who’ve noticed the neon yellow pedestiran crossing signs will already be on the lookout for you, and will be happy to stop – after all, it’s the law. However, that’s just a silly theory.
Generally, what happens is a growing anxiety develops in the pedestrian, casusing them to step out into the street with fearful hesitation. As a result, an oncoming driver can’t tell whether to drive on or stop, so they opt to coast into the intersection, finally stopping right at the feet of the shaking pedestrian. But some drivers speed up in the intersection, missing the pedestrian by inches. I hear the theme to Frogger everytime I use these crosswalks.
After a gap appeared in the traffic, I stepped onto the boulevard, flaying my hands not unlike bigfoot in that film footage from the 70s, so the oncoming drivers would have no problem seeing me. I made it through the two west bound lanes with no problem. However, in the first eastbound lane, a shiny silver BMW fastly approached. I stopped and didn’t move until I was certain it would stop. The Beamer started to slow and I walked on. But it didn’t stop until his bumper was right at my calf. The graybeard inside tapped his steering wheel, stared me down. I puffed my chest out like a gorilla, stared back, pointed to the crosswalk sign as passed him. As soon as I passed, he sped onward into the gathering darkness, toward the Important Place.
I’d made it only a few steps west along Hollywood Blvd when I heard a terrible sound. Instantly, a feeling of gritty dread fell over me. I spun around and in the glow of headlights, I saw a woman flying through the air. A black Ford Mustang screeched to a stop. The woman came to rest about 25 feet in front of the Mustang. A man across the street jumped off his bicycle and ran to woman. I ran into the street as I dialed 911. The dazed driver of the Mustang stepped out and met us where the woman lay.
“Shit, there was a truck in the other lane, man! In the other lane. I couldn’t see her…”
Another driver stopped his car, got out, directed the eastbound traffic. The cyclist had knelt down to the woman. Nervously, he’d reach out to her as she squirmed awkwardly, then he’d pull away, over and over. Finally, he nestled her head in his lap. The driver of the Mustang began directing the westbound traffic. The 911 dispatcher answered.
“A woman was hit by a car…the corner of Hollywood and Hobart…about thirty, maybe…yeah, she’s conscious…I don’t know, but she’s moving…DON’T LET HER MOVE…”
The dispatcher said for all on the scene to stay until the paramedics arrived. I hung up.
A lady ran up to the seen. “I’m a nurse. She was hit, huh?”
“They’re on their way?” She asked.
“There was a truck…right there!” shouted the driver of the Mustang to the nurse, as he waved cars by.
“Honey,” said the nurse as she knelt down to the woman. “Just lay still, the paramedics are on their way and will be here real soon, ok?”
The woman stared – her eyes wide – at the nurse. She lay at a disturbingly crooked angle, her arm was pinned behind her back. She’d been knocked out of her shoes and the contents of her purse lay about on the street. She appeared to have bitten off her lower lip, part her tongue hung out of her mouth. The right side of her face was rapidly reddening, and her teeth stuck out of her mouth at drastic angles. Every few moments she would try to look around, grimmacing as she did.
“Look at me, can you look at me?” the nurse continued. “You were hit by a car honey, but you’re ok. Can you tell me where it hurts the most?” The woman appeared to gain a quick moment of clarity, and she pointed to her waist, then to her face. Her eyes began to water and she began to start shaking. “I know, honey, it hurts, but you’re gonna be ok. Oh, here they come. Do you hear the paramedics?” The woman shook her head. “Just hang in there, dear, and don’t move around much, ok?”
Headlights shone from all directions. Horns were honking and drivers were yelling out their windows. The woman, the cyclist, the nurse, the two drivers, myself were surrounded by a force field shielding us from a storm of neon, headlights and brutal selfishness. The drivers’ disdain from being delayed by some annoying broken woman in the road bounced off this barrier like concussion blasts from artillary. After a driver would creep around the Mustang, they speed by, creating a mean flurry of engine exhaust and noise.
“Can’t you f$%king take it easy!” exclaimed the driver of the Mustang, his voice cracking. “Can’t you see the poor lady in the road?!”
But cars kept swerving by – horns, curses. As the siren of an ambulance grew louder, the woman slowly seemed to realize what had happened – oh, an accident, ooh, someone must have gotten hit, there’s the crowd, now where’s the poor…oh…OH – then she slowly descended into a soft whimper that I can still hear very clearly as I type.
“Honey,” the nurse said, she laid a hand on her arm very gently, “you’re gonna be ok? It’s all gonna be over real soon, and we’ll get you taken care of.”
The ambulance pulled right up to the scene. “A girl got hit?” said the paramedic, to no one in particular, after he got out of the ambulance. “Alright, we got it now, everyone disperse to the sidewalk, please.” He knelt down to the woman. “Hey there, had an accident, did’ya? Well don’t worry, we’re gonna take care of ya.”
The cyclist walked over to the woman who’d been holding his bicycle for him. He melted into her arms and she hugged him for several moments. The man directing the eastbound traffic got in his car and drove off, so did the nurse. The driver of the Mustang minced back and forth on the sidewalk. “There was a truck, man, right there, I couldn’t see her…”
The rest of the night, I would hear the crashing sound, over and over. Later, I lay in bed, seeing her broken face in the darkness. Her life will forever be seperated by this day. Tonight will be the fulcrum of her days. There was before, and after, that night on Hollywood Boulevard. Just before I fell asleep, a woman from Kaiser Permanante Hospital called me.
“We just need to ask you a few questions, since you made the 911 call. Did you actually see the accident happen?”
“No. When I heard the crash, I turned around and saw the girl flying through the air. Is she gonna be ok?”
“Well, she’s got a fractured pelvis and severe lacerations on her face. But she’s stable now, and knows what happened to her. It’s probably gonna several months of rehab, but she’ll recover. Her parents just arrived, so she’s not alone tonight. She’s resting now. Then it’ll begin tomorrow.”
All week, I saw the woman’s face – rapid swelling, broken teeth, the sudden realization and soft whimpering. The constant vision filled me with a very unsettling energy. I grew paranoid as traffic sped by me down the boulevards. Every car horn in Los Angeles was directed at me, every revving engine nearly gave me the DTs. I crossed intersections as if I were walking on coals. I’d stop in my tracks every time an Ambulance roared passed, it’s siren clawed it’s way into my ears, scratched at my brain. There’s another person who’s life will no longer be the same after today. Or worse, someone died. One second and nothing will ever be the same. But for everyone else around, that second’s just a fleeting moment of lunch hour, of an impatient delay at a red light, of a hurried ATM transaction. People are gettting busted and broken all over Hollywood…but they’re merely snags in the currents of the Great River Boulevards.
Later in the week, I came upon a murder of hipsters on Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. One of them – standard beard, tight shirt stretched over pot belly jiggling over skinny jeans – held out his iPhone and jerked about like he was a fish on a hook.
“Arggghh,” the hipster exclaimed, “The wifi here’s horrible! Guys, we have to go.”
“Where?” asked another hipster.
“I don’t care, but the wifi is just killing me, I swear!”
The hipster turned and stepped out onto Vine, but quickly stepped back just before the traffic rushed by. A don’t walk sign flashed offensively across the street. He stared across Vine and a spell fell over the hipster. His eyes glazed over as he longed for the other side of the street, as if on its banks lay some kind of eternal wifi magicland, where he could forever ditch his mustachioed, ironic pals, and sail away to a world of infinite escape, down wikiwormholes and youtube jungles, where a tattoo artists was just waiting to ink the all-time high score for Candy Crush on his neck. The hipster quivered in anticipation of the walk light. But the spell lifted and the other side of Vine Street became what it always was, an oasis for a pride of bums, lazing about and panting softly under the shadetrees along the Bank of America. The hipster held up his hands, looked at his other hipster pals, huffed and puffed, then crossed Sunset Blvd instead. The other hipsters followed.
I followed too, the young woman’s face floating up and slightly to the right of my vision as I crossed Sunset. Just a few feet from us, people in their motorcanoes waited to flow further down Sunset River Boulevard, to race to somewhere they probably didn’t even want to go…or only thought they wanted to go. But after the light turned green, they hauled ass to get there anyway, to get their faster than they ever had. In fact, it seemed a very likely possibility that they’d even go faster than the river, itself, beaching themselves on a dry sandy bank somewhere deeper into Time. There, they will get out of their cars, sweating from the fever of an anonymous disatisfaction. They will stumble about on dry hard ground, will upstream with the expectation that more water is coming, so they can get back in their cars and go fast again.
But no water will come. The drivers will grow very annoyed, they will huff and puff like gorillas. But still, no water. Their annoyance will grow into anger and they will begin to demand water from the Invisible Forces. But no dice. The hot, dry river bottom will burn their tender feet, they will hop and dance in pain. Depserate, they will begin beg the Invisible Forces for water. Some will even take up praying again. More water, please God, more water. Finally, prostrating themselves on the burning sand, they will promise anything for more water. But no more water more will come. The river has run dry.