Bobby Bray 11:01 a.m., Dec. 4
"The guy down the street saw her last night," shouted Eric as he walked through the front door. "See ma, I told you she was real. The guy down the street saw her last night!"
Trini and I were watching television when her adult son came in with the news. His mother seemed to know exactly what he was talking about while I as usual had no clue.
"Of course she's real," Trini replied. "Who doesn't believe in ghosts?" I thought about playing the devil's advocate but they both know I'm on the fence when it comes to those things. Ancestral spirits and mother earth are one thing but fortune tellers and Ouija boars another. Unfortunately, whatever was on television must not have been interesting because I joined the conversation.
"What ghost? Who's she?"
"The ghost on the 2000," they answered.
'Now we got ghosts on the 2000?' I thought to myself. 'Now it really is El Blvd de los Muertos. Notivisa news on channel twelve had begun referring to the 2000 corridor as The Blvd of the Dead. This was for several reasons. Not all of them having to do with crime. As I mentioned in an earlier article, the 2000 was becoming a regular scene of fatal automobile accidents that often involved drinking and high speed driving. The 2000 has very few exits and in some places you can really let go. I used to drive it in its entirety when we first moved out to Lomas del Encinal and I floored it a few times. You could get from the Otay border crossing to Popotla just south of Rosarito in no time flat if you wanted to get all NASCAR about it. (I don't recommend it anymore. There's a checkpoint at the southern end and a heavy population at the northern beginning).
Another reason for the high fatality rate on the 2000 are the pedestrians who race across its wide swath. While there is a dirt and concrete medium between the opposite bound lanes you must get to it first. Not everybody makes it. There are a handful of pedestrian bridges across the 2000 but some folks choose the short cuts with often tragic consequences.
Add to this the well documented cartel and 'regular crime' victims and you have a lot of bodies along one long highway. It didn't surprise me that this very superstitious culture wouldn't be long in conjuring up ghosts to go with the violent deaths. Around here La Llorona and Juan el Soldado are as accepted as the sunrise and sunset.
I just had a little trouble picturing a haunted highway. Disneyland's The Haunted Mansion and movies like the Amityville Horror were what I was raised on. A haunted house, now that's scary. But a haunted highway? All I could think of was the headless horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and didn't that turn out to be a pumpkin?
"She hangs out at the tree and walks up and down the 2000," Eric said to me.
"The tree?" I know the tree he was talking about. I live in a neighborhood called Oak Hills but good luck trying to find a tree on their slopes. Any tree much less an oak tree. 'The tree,' is a huge old pine that you must pass when you exit the off ramp from the 2000 that leads to my Palacial Wooden Shack. You can see it clearly on the Reader map. Around here when you say 'the tree' everybody knows where you mean. If you need to be specific just say the tree by the bridge (off ramp).
When I first started working at The French Gourmet I worked the morning shift. That meant leaving my house at three am. One of the first things I'd pass on my journey was the tree. Back then it was known for shielding bandits who'd assault commuters like myself. I'd always walk by the tree on the far side of the street, out of caution, but I never had a problem there. When I finally did get robbed, by four armed people in a car, it was in the town itself. A long way from the tree. As for ghosts...
"So there's a female ghost who haunts the 2000," I semi skeptically said to my very believing family. "Yes," said the Greek chorus. "The lady in white," they sang.
I must of suddenly gotten a real odd look on my face because one of them said, "What?" and the other shouted, "You saw her!"
"No!" I answered. "I mean I don't think so. You see she had on a black jacket." I told them the story; "It was a few summers back. I remember because that morning all I wore over my French Gourmet t-shirt was one of my Hawaiian shirts and at the bottom of the hill I unbuttoned it because my body was warming. I'd long passed the tree and was deep along the 2000, midway between my neighborhood and the Aguas Ave exit. From where I'd walk the two blocks to the east side, shuttle van base.
Back then the lights and islands on the 2000 were still under construction. Around there at that time were a lot of dirt mounds that blocked views and made it difficult to get away from the highway itself. If something was coming at you there was nowhere to go. It used to be my least favorite part of walking the 2000. Now it's graded with concrete islands and modern lighting but back then it was dark and scary.
I was walking south on the 2000 and she was going north. Her long white skirt stood out in the moonlit night. The first thought that came to my mind was, 'That lady's drunk or crazy!' Then I thought, 'What if she's in trouble?' That was followed by 'What if it's a trap and she's the lure?' I didn't have a lot of time to decide because the gap between us was closing fast. If either one of us was going to try and intercept the other then we'd have to start crossing the wide highway soon.
I watched her steadily moving, remarkably smoothly, considering the rough terrain we were both walking over. I decided to keep going and let her make the first move. She didn't do anything. As the distance grew smaller I saw that she had on a small black jacket on over her long white gown. It was something like a 'bolero' style. It could have been dark blue or dark brown but If I had to guess I'd go with black. It made the the long white dress she wore appear brighter and more billowy.
As our paths crossed on opposite sides of the 2000 I squinted to see her face but could make out nothing. The distance was too great and the darkness just dark enough. She never made any motion to acknowledge me. She just kept walking. So I did too. I took a few more steps and then couldn't help myself. I spun around. She was far away and still walking in that same smooth manner. Without turning around she said, "Graaaciaaas."
'How did she know I had turned around to look at her? She must have heard my feet stop crunching the gravel beneath me. Yeah, that was it. But how come I couldn't hear her feet? We walked on the same road.'
It was a long, drawn out gracias. I'd never heard it pronounced like that. It was almost a wail. Or maybe it was. A tired, grateful wail. No, it couldn't be. Could it? And why?
"You saw her too!" My family said to me.
"No, no I didn't," I objected. "I saw a lady walking down the highway 2000."
"A woman on the 2000 at three in the morning," one said.
"Dressed in white," said the other.
"With a black jacket," I countered.
"Maybe she was cold."
"Ghosts don't get cold," I replied.
"I thought you don't believe in ghosts?"
"Uh, I do, sometimes. I just don't think I saw a ghost on that night. Did I?"