Fridays are paydays for many working people, and it reinforces in some that sense of license implicit on the eve of the weekend. One example of this is the way people drive late on a Friday night, whether or not they have imbibed alcohol. One can see it, say, from a perch, a balcony overlooking Melrose Drive in North County, inland from Vista and Oceanside, west of Escondido.
The road curves somewhat wickedly in an S configuration. Hardly a hairpin turn, yet it requires focus, the mind relaxed but attentive, the hands steady as one moves the wheel to the right and then to the left. Late Friday night, around 11:30 and from this balcony, it is not unlike watching an auto race, anticipating the worst.
This Friday night in particular, postulate that you are standing on this balcony, taking in the stars, the moon. Luna Court peers over an escarpment of several hundred feet, you think, but you’re not that great at estimating measurements. The next promontory is on the other side of a canyon that is a wildlife preserve. The arroyo is certainly less than a mile wide. At the top of this next promontory (not quite a mountain, more like a hill) is a great water tank illuminated by the earth’s nearest satellite in a dull, glowing, and flat metallic green. It is all beautiful, you think. And then you look down at the road.
Everyone drives a sport utility vehicle or a Jeep or Jeep-like vehicle up here. The gas, you think. The cost. Your attention is drawn to the way drivers are negotiating this S curve. Most seem to be taking it a bit fast. Drunks? Surely not all of them. You smile guiltily to yourself, catch yourself doing it and cease that expression immediately, though no one can see you. The smile originates with the thought that if you stand here long enough you will be entertained by a car wreck.
Here is a driver tacking way over the white line at both ends of the S. This guy — or possibly it is a woman. No, a woman could not and would not be that reckless. This is a guy. You picture a kind of country gentleman yuppie. This driver, in your mind’s eye, is 30ish, starting to go a little bald. Maybe he has a neatly trimmed beard or goatee. He is lit on two bottles of expensive wine, a Rothschild Cabernet of good vintage. He was at a wine tasting, and when it was over he set to sampling the wine in earnest.
His late-model Land Leviathan nearly sideswipes an 18-wheeler as it comes from the other direction and meets the top of the S going downhill. Of course, no such grim entertainment is provided, and it occurs to you that the sharp incline acts both ways: a danger in one direction, a natural ameliorating factor for Friday-night carelessness in the other. Your country-gentleman yuppie is oblivious to that alternate future of twisted wreckage. You imagine the truck driver cursing the rich-guy driver in creative ways.
It is nearly midnight and you’ve counted five vehicles, all of them late models, which have drifted across that white line at both curves. Your opportunity to call 911, rush down to the road, and pull an entire family to safety from a burning accident scene is denied. Your mind drifts to standing in line at the bank earlier that day. Eavesdropping on several conversations at once.
“Hi, Dave. How’s the grocery business?”
“The work is never done. You can never say, like, ‘Okay, that job’s finished,’ you know?”
“What are you gonna do tonight?”
“Yeah. Party with Cynthia and her friends, probably.”
Another conversation...a retired couple, you figure: “Let’s drive up to see Larry and Evelyn tonight.” This is the woman, about 70.
“We’ll be driving all night. That’s a long way on the 78.” The man seems a bit older. “I don’t want to be behind the wheel that late on the weekend.”
“Let’s talk about it later and just deposit this, all right?”
Anyway, that’s the way you remember those conversations and another one before that: two young guys, 20s, talking about drag racing, but you were pretty sure they were joking.
Speaking of which, your mind is drawn back to the present and the road by a squealing of brakes at the bottom curve. It is a not-so-late-model Toyota. The driver is taking it too fast. He’s in the wrong lane, drifts back. Surely this is it. In seconds he’s at the top curve.
Squealing brakes again, and he’s head on with a southbound Jeep. Oh, man.
Once again, you’re cheated. No. Don’t think that way.
The road is silent now. It is midnight and almost Saturday.