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Another day in Florida

Posted on October 10th, 2013 by george.
Categories: Uncategorized.

This morning on the way to school I merged onto the highway headed west, only about a mile from the house. I quickly came to a stop for the traffic ahead. I could see lights flashing. The squad car on the ramp in front of me had raced ahead to block the left lane. He was the second officer at the scene. As I crawled past the accident, I saw about four cars stopped, then a blue street bike on its side in the left lane. The rider had come to rest a couple dozen yards in front of the bike. Their shoes didn’t make it as far. A man furiously waved me past, probably upset by rubberneckers, but I couldn’t go any faster due to the car in front of me. He seemed angrier than justifiable by the situation, which made me think he might have been responsible for the accident. I caught a brief glimpse of the rider’s sock feet. They were lying face up on the pavement, knees bent, feet flat. This and the fact that the bike was still in one piece gave me hope that they were still alive. The rest of the rider’s body was obscured by people giving assistance, but the dainty legs gave me the impression it was a woman. As traffic regained speed I looked in the rearview mirror. Turns out there had been a fire truck right behind me, lights off and no siren. Perhaps that explained the furious man.

About ten minutes later I merged onto another highway headed northwest. Within seconds I saw a black-clad figure on the opposite side of the road, walking slowly against traffic and struggling to shoulder a backpack. I pulled a quick U-turn and rolled my window down.

“Where you headed?”
“Orlando.”
“Hop in.”

He got in with some difficulty, refusing to remove his mostly empty backpack.

“Name’s Nate.”
“George. Nice to meet you.”

We shook hands.

“Where in Orlando are you going?”
“Downtown.”
“I can get you as far as Alafaya and Colonial. After that I head north to UCF.”
“That’s fine. Been walking a long time.”
“Where you coming from?”
“Cocoa. Don’t nobody stop no more.”

After a few minutes I noticed he hadn’t buckled his seatbelt. He was sitting so rigidly, gripping the door handle, I thought it best not to ask.

“Got any water?”
“No, sorry. But I can get you some.”
“Ok.”

We rode in silence for five minutes, Sigur Ros playing softly on the stereo. I made a quick move around a dump truck. He mumbled something I couldn’t understand. I asked him to repeat it. He did, but it was still unintelligible. I thought I made out a word that sounded like “power.” I turned the volume up, thinking he wanted more power from the speakers. He didn’t say anything. In hindsight, I think he was complimenting the power of the car, because his next question was,

“Is that a radar detector?”
“Yep. It’s saved me a lot of tickets. I used to get about one ticket per year. Haven’t gotten any more since I got it.”

He laughed. I turned north on Alafaya and pulled into the Race Trac.

“You hungry? Would you like a sandwich or something?”
“Yeah, a sandwich be good.”

The low fuel light had come on during the trip, but if I took the time to pump gas I’d be late to class. I ran in and grabbed two bottles of water, a turkey sandwich and an egg salad sandwich, some honey roasted peanuts and a bag of chips. I returned to the car, bag in hand, and opened the passenger door. It took Nate about ten full seconds to get out of the seat. I had to take his bag and help him out. I handed him the food and asked if he could use some cash. I gave him what I had in my wallet, then pointed him in the direction of downtown. He said thank you a couple dozen times.

His difficult egress and the hobble in his step made me wonder what we’re doing in the United States. Why we do we keep driving when we see hitchhikers? Why is driving the only option? Why do we cross the street to avoid someone without a home? Why do we shut down the government for having the audacity to make people PAY for health insurance? God forbid we actually help those in need with universal health care. I fear that disdain for the poor is largely a result of ignorance. If you’ve always been affluent and never faced true hardship, or racism, or institutional bias, it might be easy to assume everyone with less money than you is shiftless and lazy. My question is: why would you make that assumption without knowing a single detail about their lives? Furthermore, why don’t you ever bother to get to know them? I gave Nate a ride because that’s what I hope someone would have done for me. Because he’s not just a homeless guy walking fifty miles. He is my fellow human being. He is my brother. I might have helped him out for one part of one day of his life, but I’m still failing him. We all are.

After lunch I was walking across the parking lot toward the nearest crosswalk to head back to campus. A big white Ford SUV with a creaking suspension had been idling in the middle of the lane, and slowly pulled forward into a parking spot near where I was walking. A guy cried out of the window,

“Hey buddy!”

I turned around.

“Hey man, you want to buy a home theater? Surround sound?”

I looked at him, then looked at my skateboard, as if to say, “How do you expect me to carry it?”

“I don’t have a car.”
“Well, do you want to go get your car? I just got these two systems and I need to get rid of them today. I’ll give you a good deal. Real cheap. They’re worth like $2,000. Come on, man.”

At this point I had seen enough red flags.

“No thanks.”
“Ok man. Have a good one.”

I kept walking, crossed the street, then noticed they had left the parking lot and were coming up behind me. I was relieved when they kept going, and memorized their plate as they creaked by. They drove aimlessly through nearby lots. I looked up the Orlando Sheriff’s non-emergency line and dialed it. They were still in sight after I navigated the automated menus and reached the laconic dispatcher.

“I’d like to report some potentially stolen goods.”
“Potentially stolen? What do you mean?”
“Two guys just tried to sell me some stereo equipment out of the back of their SUV.”

I gave her a description of the vehicle. She was surprised when I rattled off the plate number. They were still in sight on Alafaya at the intersection south of University. She was annoyed that I didn’t know the name of that cross street. I was about to hang up when she asked if I could describe the driver.

“I didn’t see the driver, just the passenger.”
“Was he black or Hispanic?”
“He was white.”

She paused.

“Ok, I’ll notify the deputies in the area.”

A few minutes later I was on campus, ready to cross the main loop, a road named Gemini. There’s a crosswalk that isn’t near traffic lights and relies upon drivers to yield to pedestrians. In Florida, this is also known as a joke. Having been nearly hit here the last few times I dared to cross, I have taken Lorenia’s advice and started hopping off my skateboard and carrying it across. I caught a gap between traffic pulses and started across. The tall shrubs in the median block pedestrians from the view of oncoming traffic, so I was careful to start across the third and fourth lanes when I was sure no cars were within 100 yards, in spite of the fact that I had the right of way. Right of way means nothing here, because people either don’t know or refuse to follow pedestrian laws. Even though the majority of traffic was stopped at a red light, one car from a cross street had managed to turn left and was approaching as I crossed. Rather than slow down, he sped up. Rather than switch lanes, he maintained course. I could feel the rush of wind as he became the third car in as many days to purposefully miss me by inches. Maybe next time I’ll learn my lesson and wait until there are no cars. That way he can go even faster on his way to the next red light.

On the way home I merged from one highway to another near where I had picked up Nate. Once again, I quickly came to a stop. In the distance were blue flashing lights. I could tell they were on the left side of the highway, so I moved right and turned on my flashers to warn oncoming traffic. As is typical of Florida drivers, the next five cars simply swerved left and maintained full speed. I watched several near misses under panic braking. I can only assume they thought I was using my hazards because I was disabled. But then why wasn’t I pulling over to the shoulder?

I spent the next mile or so comfortably ensconced between two semi trucks, feathering the clutch and creeping along at the average speed. People in control of 40 tons of vehicle tend to drive more sensibly. They know from experience that they need more time to stop, and because they can see over the rooftops of cars, they know they won’t get anywhere by lurching forward and slamming on the brakes, even if their trucks were capable of that. We cruised along and watched the yahoos in the left lane waste fuel and wear down their brake pads while getting no further ahead than we were.

Eventually we reached the accident, and it was indeed on the left. An SUV had rolled over and the front of the roof had caved down to the steering wheel. Two lucky guys were standing next to it, seemingly uninjured. I was thankful that I didn’t have to see another body on the ground.

3 comments.

Lorenia

Comment on October 10th, 2013.

You had quite a day.

With more context, the dispatch lady’s reaction has even more possibilities. Confusion over you finding someone white suspicious? Confusion as to someone reporting someone white… in Orlando?!

As much as I love the idea of Baldwin Park, this is why I don’t think I could ever actually live in Orlando. These are daily occurences, not uncommon ones, and they are stressful.

Except for Nate. I liked the part about Nate.

Sholeh

Comment on October 10th, 2013.

whew!

Mama

Comment on October 10th, 2013.

Wow! Motorcycles, Accidents, Heathcare, Homelessness, Hitchhikers, Discrimination, Government Shutdown, Car Dependency and Aggressive Drivers. You just about covered it all in this one blog post!! I love your writing. Keep the blog posts coming!! 🙇📜😉

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