I saw a dead man on Lake Shore Drive the other day. Some firemen were pulling him out of the wreck of a white car that lay across the northbound lanes with its roof torn off. You could see the dead man's shoes flopping from side to side as the firemen struggled with his body. Someone in the crowd said later he'd been decapitated, but I didn't see that. When his shoulders came out of the car, I looked away. Next to me a man sucked on a Popsicle and craned his neck to get a better view. "Look at that," he said, nudging two small boys who stood in front of him. Perhaps they were his sons. "See the blood," said the man.
The firemen laid the body on a dirty tarpaulin and rolled it over, not gently or with any noticeable reverence but briskly and efficiently, as you would expect of men who often handled heavy objects. The floppy feet performed a quick pirouette as the body was turned onto its back. The man with the Popsicle noticed that the courtesy light in the white car was on and said that someone should disconnect the battery before it wore down.
A police officer listened to an eyewitness describing the accident. The tall young man in shorts, with a mauve tank top and a matching headband, seemed to be unaffected--even a little bored--by what he had seen, as if it were the kind of thing he'd seen many times before and would no doubt see again. He expressed himself mainly by swearing. 'That fucker in the yellow station wagon, right? That fucker is heading south, then he took off--he's fuckin' airborne, he's flyin'--and he comes down on that white car there, rips the fuckin' roof off, and bang! smacks that other fucker over there. The fucker in the white car musta died immediately. Guy had his fuckin' head tore off."
The yellow station wagon looked as if a giant had stretched and twisted it and then jumped on the roof to flatten it. Each set of wheels faced in a different direction. You thought: nobody could have survived that. But the driver, who caused the death of the headless man in the white car, was seen running away, trying to hail a taxi. Ambulances had removed the injured occupants of the other five cars involved in the crash, but there were still several ambulances at the scene, along with a dozen fire engines and police cars. The corpse had been carried into the park and placed in the shadow of a patrol car.
"Where's the body?" shouted a cop holding a clipboard.
Another cop told him.
"Is anyone looking after it?" asked the first cop, pen poised over his pad.
His friend shrugged. "It ain't goin' nowhere," he said.
I watched the local news programs that night and read the papers in the morning, looking for more information about the crash on Lake Shore Drive. At that time the driver of the yellow station wagon had not been found. (He was eventually tracked to a city hospital and booked.)
Over the next few days, riding the bus home along the Drive, I found myself thinking about the man in the white car and how suddenly death had come to him. At Aldine, he was still alive, ahead of the evening rush hour, driving a big sedan. Was he going home, or did he work nights? Did he have a family? A wife, children? How old was he? What was his name? I wondered if he'd been out of town on business and had been hurrying home, hungry. Did he have the radio on, or was he playing a tape? Perhaps he was singing along with the music, tapping out the time on the wheel.
He was still alive at Hawthorne, and Cornelia, and Brompton, not that he would have paid much attention to those side streets as he sped north along the Drive. And he was still living at Addison. I wondered if he got a glimpse of the station wagon before it killed him at Waveland. On the news they had said the yellow wagon had been weaving in and out of traffic before it became airborne. Did he see that? Make a mental note? Probably not. It's more likely that it was on top of him before he knew it, blotting out the sunlight before he had a chance to think about it, before he had a chance to think about anything.
I live near the intersection of Addison and Lake Shore Drive. There have been other fatal crashes nearby in the two years I've lived there. A night rarely passes without the sound of screeching tires and metal crashing into metal. Go there now, and you'll find broken glass and a litter of chrome debris and other bits of broken metal swept into the gutters or embedded in the surface of the road.
The night of the accident, I heard on the local news that a former policeman had barricaded himself into his house with a half-dozen weapons and shot two men, one of them a cop, when they tried to get him out. Police had to fire 30 canisters of tear gas into the house before he surrendered. In a live sequence, a woman, possibly the wife of one of the victims, was shown rushing into the hospital.
Later that day, Cable News Network reported on a poll conducted to see how many people thought the U.S. should pay compensation to the families of the Iranians mistakenly shot down over the Persian Gulf. Of those polled, 82 percent thought we should not. A woman who was interviewed said that she regarded all Iranians, men, women, and children, as sworn enemies who deserved whatever happened to them.
Look at that. See the blood. They ain't goin' nowhere.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kevin Kurtz.