Monday, October 12, 2009

Bad day for 21st and Walnut

I walked home from work early today. I was tired from my new job, which so far entails reading and jockeying for position with another employee. I think I will be happy there, but today the effort of continual adjustment sort of wore me out.

By the way, I live in Philadelphia now.

I walked home from work, enjoying the fall colors, cold air (fall! It’s been so long since I’ve seen one!) and deciding if I would stop for a glass of wine or head straight home. I was so lost in my own head that I was almost on top of the disaster in the street before I realized that the crowds of people were not normal for 21st and Walnut.

A crane had fallen. 125 feet, according to the newscasters, who were severely reporting into their cameras. It wasn’t really a crane so much as a huge cherry picker/man lift. Repairs were being made to the spires of a church on the corner. I’d been watching the progress for a few weeks. The machine operator was dead. A woman injured from falling debris. Street signs were lying in the street, the awnings of the local florist shredded. A workers truck sat with a smashed windshield near what remained of the bucket. High above it all, a large hole had been carved out of the roof and wall of the apartment building over the florist shop.

None of this had occurred when I walked by the same corner seven hours earlier.

I watched for a while, called my mom, and then backtracked to reach my street. I walked into my local bar and ordered a glass of wine. I was the only patron and the bartender and I start to talk about the accident. She tells me that when she was a little girl her father worked construction. One day the platform he was working on collapsed and he fell five stories, landing on his feet.

“Was he okay?” I asked.

I know he’s alive, she had mentioned him before. But she tells me that her father was and wasn’t okay.

“He contracted Hepatitis C from the blood transfusions, he was never the same after that. Tired a lot. I didn’t realize how massive the event was at the time. I was only five or six.”

And then she apologized to me for making someone else’s tragedy about herself, which I found completely sincere and endearing.

“But you do think about yourself when you see a situation like that.” I told her.

I certainly had thought about myself back on that corner. When I called my mom from the accident site she answered, but was crabby from working on her taxes.

“It’s right at the bus stop I use every morning mom, the bus stop is a little smushed.”

“Uh-huh. Okay. Well good thing you weren’t there then.”

“MOM! I’m serious.” I tell her.

“Yes, okay well I’m working on my taxes so I’ll read about it later okay?” and with that my mom said good-bye and disconnected.

I was irritated and then embarrassed that I was worrying about me. I wasn’t at the bus stop. It happened in the middle of the day so I wouldn’t have been at the bus stop. Really, I was selfishly thinking about how two weeks into a new town I didn’t know anyone who I could call if I had to go to the emergency room. I was too embarrassed to tell the bartender what had gone through my head when I saw the accident, so I changed the subject and ordered some bread.

We chatted a bit more while we waited for my order and then she turned to help two more customers who had managed to find their way into the bar, despite the street being blocked off. I finished my glass of wine and suddenly felt so tired that I wasn’t sure I would even make it across the street to my apartment without a nap first.

I stumbled up my stairs and then wandered through the maze of packing cardboard that leads to my couch. I was barely able to register when I laid down, shoes still on, pulling the couch throw over my shoulders and up to my ears. I fell into the mental twilight that sometimes lingers before the deep midnight of a big sleep. I wandered through the afternoon again, changing the scenario at the corner several times over.

In the first instance I imagine that I come down Walnut and find a crowd, TV crews, emergency response teams. A crane is down, the building and street damaged. The crane operator is badly hurt and he will require many surgeries. The first surgery is already underway, it will be a tough road but he will likely survive.

Then the same picture but he’s not as badly hurt. He will definitely survive.

Then I see the crane fall only this time a freak miracle accompanies the freak accident. He’s able to jump free of the basket, or maybe he was thrown. But instead of falling all the way to the sidewalk he lands on the roof of the building, hurt, but not too much, a few broken bones.

Then the same picture only this time he lands inside the apartment where the crane makes a hole in the roof. This time he falls right onto a couch under the hole and is a little bruised and has some scratches but no broken bones. “If it weren’t so serious it would be slapstick.” is how the incident is reported on the local news.

Then, right before my conscious completely faded:

I come down Walnut and…nothing. Nothing happened. The crane, it drove over the manhole cover and wobbled, but it held. No one knows about it. Traffic is the same. There are no news crews. No one dies.

My shoes were still on and my new living room was strangely quiet with all of the cars diverted to other streets and finally, I slept.

The cherry picker the week before. Mom happened to take a random picture of it when she was visiting.