Yesterday's dawn begins as subtle tree-silhouettes to the east, with glimpses of raggedy deep-gray-on-black cloud shapes above them. Then baby-blanket colors crawl onto the canvas, pastel pink against robin's egg tincture of sky in gradually sharpening contrast. Daybreak nears ... high clouds fade to white ... lower ones in the foreground, not yet in direct sunlight, change hue to mottled orange as they leap out in exaggerated 3-D perspective.
And all the while, like snake tongues, police car strobe lights flicker their electric red-blue glares across my windshield. It's early morning on 22 October 2002, and I'm first in line behind a roadblock. The local sniper has apparently killed another person a few miles to the north. Law enforcement hopes to trap him in the lockdown.
Everyone waits with calm patience. I comment on this to the young policeman, head shaved bald, who emerges from his patrol car to don gloves, light a flare, and walk down the line of hopeful commuter-wannabes. "People are scared around here," he replies. "They want this guy caught!" I thank him and his colleagues for being there. He nods.
No horns blow. At first engines idle, but after half an hour most are turned off; so are headlights. The radio is broken in the '72 Dodge Dart that I'm driving, so I get to hear birds chirping in the bushes by the roadside. Pedestrians are uncharacteristically law-abiding this morning. They cross only in the crosswalks, and only when the signals permit, even though no traffic flows. Perhaps the presence of dozens of underemployed cops is a factor in their risk calculus.
Cars sit still while the stoplights at the intersection go through their standard rush hour cycle: 150 seconds for Georgia Avenue, the main north-south artery in the area; 15 seconds for eastbound Forest Glen Road; 15 seconds for westbound Forest Glen; then repeat. People call each other on their cellphones. A few passengers climb out of the hospital shuttle bus and walk off toward their destination half a mile away.
After an hour word comes down to the police and they lift the blockade. Motion goes to my head --- instead of turning back toward home I zip onto the freeway onramp, proceed about 100 yards, and then find myself in a mammoth traffic jam. I spend another ninety minutes creeping along until abruptly the congestion evaporates and, like gas molecules expanding into a vacuum, cars and trucks resume their normal velocity spectrum. In ten minutes I'm at the office.
Late yesterday afternoon on the way home I chance to drive by the neighborhood gas station where a woman was killed two weeks ago, shot by the sniper while cleaning her car. Baskets of flowers frame the spot --- an ephemeral cascade of color placed there by friends.
I remember the clouds that began this day ....
TopicPersonalHistory - Datetag20021023