Greenpoint, October, 2015

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hands Free, Heart Pounding

Westbound on the Gowanus Expressway at 11:15 a.m. I had just reached the split with the Belt Parkway. It's a bit hard to describe, but this is the point where the two righthand lanes continue on to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Staten Island, the center center-left lane dips down to feed onto the Belt Parkway, and the lefthand ("zipper") lane curves up and around and eventually rejoins the Gowanus Expressway headed towards S.I.--except when it is carrying traffic in the opposite direction.

Of course, I chose the single "zipper lane," which had just opened to westbound traffic. As soon as I did, I spotted something dark in the roadway, about two feet in from the lefthand Jersey barrier. At first I thought it was a piece of fabric or carpet or a garbage bag (pretty common sights on the BQE). As I got closer, I realized it was a rectangular manhole cover that had somehow been jarred open, one of its corners angled up at oncoming drivers. It wasn't difficult to avoid, but my stomach churned as I thought of somebody hitting it.

I dialed 911 on my cellphone and chose "Hands-Free," not something I do often or well. The operator's voice came through but faintly. For some reason, the music I had been listening to didn't cut out the way it is supposed to. And I couldn't figure out how to make it shut off or turn it down without losing the call volume. To hear the operator, I had to turn up the volume--and with it the music, which happened to be Dwight Yoakam singing "Long Way to Go" (from the fine 3 Pairs album).

911. Are you reporting an emergency?

Wishin' is only wishin'

Uhm, no. A highway hazard.

Till my only thought's the wish to be with you

Go ahead sir.

It's on the BQE. I mean, it's on the Gowanus Expressway.

"I've got a long way to go before I get there"

What exit number?

I don't know. 19, I think. Just after the split with the, what's it, Belt Parkway. There's a manhole cover open.

I've got a lot of field to hoe with the sun so high

So that's the Gowanus Expressway near Exit 19?

Yes, it's the lane on the far left, just after the split with the Belt.

Got a lot of miles to roll

And there is a manhole cover open?

And the next few only show

Yes, it's sticking up. If someone hit it...

That there's still such a long way to go.

She took my name and phone number, and gave me her operator's number. I didn't try to remember it.

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