Edging onto the cross street, hoping to get a break, hoping
traffic will slow just enough to let me find my place among
those cars, personal pods of protection, that shield us against
the indignities of casual conversations with strangers.

Those strangers don’t talk like me, don’t feel like me, don’t
love like me, don’t hate like me; they are not like me at all,
yet they spend hours in their miserable cars. I wonder
why they don’t slow enough to let a stranger find a place in the flow?

Those cars we so carefully choose shield us against the unimaginable,
the unreal, the intangible connections that once grew naturally
like a weed grows in a crack in the concrete of the curb that
protects the sidewalk from the speeding cross street traffic.

If those strangers were like me, if they talked like me, if they felt like me,
if they loved like me, if they hated like me, if they were like me at all, they
would slow just enough to let a stranger find a place in the flow;
but they must not be like me, not at all like me, so I curse their families.

As I try to edge further into the intersection, I need protection
against those nameless strangers who don’t slow as they go
faster and faster without looking into my eyes or caring whether
my day warrants a break or a smile or a flash of the peace sign.

These goddamn strangers must live bitter lives, lives they deserve
for failing to slow their protective pods just enough to
let a good stranger, a decent stranger like me, enter the flow
and take my rightful place among the travelers with somewhere to go.

Eventually the traffic light will slow the flood of heartless strangers,
strangers who must worship at the fountain of eternal loathing and hatred
to be so cold as to pass me by without even a nod or a glance or a tap on
the brake pedal to acknowledge the legitimacy of a cross-street stranger.

Maybe the traffic light is broken, or maybe a cruel stranger or even the child
of a cruel stranger has vandalized the light so it is is forever green
for those monstrous bastards in their obscenely big ugly cars, those bastards
whose only delight is to block my way and ruin my only eternity.

I have been waiting for days at this intersection, hoping a friend might
pass by and take pity on me, locked up in my unobtrusive little car,
by slowing to allow me to edge into the stream of poisonous vipers whose
purpose is to avoid letting even a hint of humanity slip into their midst.

But there are no friends among these beasts, there are only
strangers whose empathy and compassion were expunged when the door slammed shut,
leaving their souls to boil in noxious hydrocarbons, fueling the hatred
that allows these speeding reasons-for-preemptive-euthanasia to roar by.

When I reached the intersection, when I was younger and had a career and a lifetime
ahead of me, those hideous cars weren’t so sinister as they are now.
They have aged, as have I, and now are just bitter relics of neglected steel and
plastic that serve only as delivery devices for ugly, heartless strangers.

Waiting at the intersection, I have time to daydream, and I do, about James Bond
and his flashy spy vehicles equipped with missiles and machine guns,
just the sort of gear that would clear a path for me to edge my way into the flow,
enabling me to become a bright spot among the dull grey strangers I loathe so intensely.

I fret about the loss of humanity I witness before me, the insensitivity to my plight,
the unwillingness to slow, just a little, to let my car enter the roiling fray.
I worry about the demise of civility and man’s inhumanity to man, as I watch them pass,
encapsulated in packets of personal distance expanded into interstellar dimensions.

If there were goodness in the world, these heartless criminals who laugh as I wait would
reflect on themselves and their judgment of the people they pass at the intersection.
They would gaze inward and be jarred by the skepticism that resides therein; they would react and respond and become gentler beings, seeing in others the torture in themselves.

Alas, there can be no goodness where automobiles seal them from reality,
where pity has no place, where compassion is measured against derision.
I must be doomed to wait here while the world decays around me and robs me of the youth
I once spent like there was no tomorrow, even when I knew there was no tomorrow.

But, wait, what’s this, a wave, a motion, an invitation to join the parade of cars
in their march toward destiny? A gesture of love, kindness? A human emotion on display?
Hallelujah! I have seen the glory of the coming of compassion! I see opportunity where once there was none; entry into an interminable chain of hopelessness that is traffic.

That wave, that gesture, coincided with the brightening of the sun, the clearing of the air,
my transformation from a man in manacles to a free man with places to go.
Behind me, as I leave, is another pitiful pod, a car attempting to enter
this parade which the rest of us have created with our persistence and our patience.

We have paid our dues, paid with time and patience and lost innocence, to buy our way
into this stream of heartless strangers, connected by our distance and distrust.
We are duty-bound to follow the code, the code of exclusivity and resistance, that
keeps the intersection snarled, lips curled, voices raised, and tempers short.

How dare the intruder, fresh from his heated garage, poke his car into my path?
That sense of entitlement, that wish to avoid paying the price of entry, guides all
my new acquaintances in their fuel-thirsty cars as they block his way.
I feel his pain and wonder whether to wave a car in, or drive on, at the next intersection.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Intersection

  1. Juan, you are exceptionally perceptive; you got what I intended to say. Your favorite paragraph is among mine, as well. Road rage is probably simply an extension of what the old man experienced in the theater;the books sounds fascinating! Have you read it?

  2. juan says:

    There are a number of reasons why I like this piece, John:

    1. The style is delightful. I like the way you are playing with assonance and consonance. When an essay dabbles in this sort of thing, and it’s done correctly, the reader goes through the piece like smooth silk — we easily move from one idea to the next. But, done too much, it can be the difference between a fine bottle of Italian Soave and a screw-top bottle of Ripple in brown paper bag! I more often than not, read essays aloud, because I want to feel the full potential of the language. To my way of thinking, all writing should be read aloud.

    2. The running metaphor quickly becomes apparent. The reader knows the place from which you write. Just up from my own home, there is US19, one of the busiest and more deadly highways in the United States. National Geographic called US19 “a grinder.” The number of lives that old bitch of a highway has taken is near daunting. One of my neighborhood streets meets with 19, but the traffic is so heavy, that I find myself waiting and waiting for some safe edge-way into the stream. None will slow. The flow becomes some collective mind-set. They are not individuals anymore; they are simply a part of the “flow.”

    3. There is a favorite paragraph that I like so much, I have read it at least 4 times. It’s this one:

    “We have paid our dues, paid with time and patience and lost innocence, to buy our way
    into this stream of heartless strangers, connected by our distance and distrust.
    We are duty-bound to follow the code, the code of exclusivity and resistance that
    keeps the intersection snarled, lips curled, voices raised, and tempers short.”


    I can’t help but think of the Reeves and Oulson shooting in a movie theater, where an old man, hateful of theater texting, becomes so irate with one that he shoots him dead. This just happened near Dade City, some 30 miles from my home. It’s a mad, mad, mad world!

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