Crashing

by Elison Alcovendaz

Yesterday morning, we did what we always did. We woke up, listened to Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" (okay, maybe that was just me), brushed our teeth, showered, dressed, made lunches, set our alarm, got into our car, backed out, closed the garage, got on the freeway, and then, 20 minutes away from work, this happened:

We did what we were supposed to do: we panicked for a second, looked at each other, made sure each other was okay, carefully pulled to the shoulder, called 911, called our insurance, took pictures of damage, and waited. When the police came, we explained what happened. He took everything down on a mini notepad, while the other officer talked to the driver who hit us and another car. Then we waited for the tow truck. We waited for about an hour and a half on the side of the freeway. Then we hopped a ride with the tow truck driver to the body shop, signed some paperwork, got into a car with an 80-year old man who dropped us off at the rental car office, where we signed more paperwork, drove home, rested, then, as our bodies got more and more and more sore, we went to see the doctors, were prescribed some medications which we picked up at the pharmacy, ordered some food, came home and ate the food, took our medications, welcomed my parents, who had come to visit to check up on us, ate the brownies they brought, bade them good night, went to bed, very uncomfortable but medicated, read a little bit, then went to sleep.

I look at that picture above and think how crazy it is how much trust we put in strangers every single day. You may have read my fictional account of this in a previous story I wrote called "The Clothes in the Hamper," but let's follow what happened yesterday and determine how many times something important (health, safety, even our own lives at times) were put in the hands of people we didn't know:

1)  We brushed our teeth with toothpaste that the FDA said was safe to use. You might read the chemicals that go into a tube of toothpaste and never even think about those long scientific words for things that you're putting into your system. Did you know there's such a thing as toothpaste overdose? No wonder there are "Do Not Swallow" warnings on toothpaste. 

2)  We showered in water provided by our local municipality, who says the water is clean. We have two water sources: the clean water which goes to our faucets and showers, and recycled water which is for our lawns. A sign just a street away from our house states that recycled water is Non-Potable, Not Drinkable, HAZARDOUS. Okay, it doesn't say the hazardous part. But you wouldn't want your kids running through the sprinklers with their mouths open. And you certainly wouldn't want your clean water and hazardous water lines mixed up when your house was built. 

3) We made our lunches, which consisted of Yoplait yogurt and a banana for breakfast and a bagged salad for lunch. Much like the toothpaste, the chemicals and additives listed on the yogurt were declared safe by the FDA. The banana was not organic, but even if it was, how would I really know? Who knows what was sprayed on the kale in the bag. I didn't. But those salads sure are tasty!

4) We set our alarm. Some of us trust our windows and our doors and our walls and our fences are enough. For those of us a little more paranoid (like me), we have alarms. The alarms warn us if there is an intruder in the house. When we leave, we push a button and that is supposed to protect our home. Who knows if it actually comes on? Or if someone actually did break-in, if the alarm would actually call the monitoring service? I don't know, but it certainly makes me feel that much safer!

5)  We got into our car. We bought the car because we believed Mazda made a quality car. Quality as in it would last for a good, long while, get us good gas mileage, and not break down unexpectedly. We believed it would get us to work, to our parents' houses, to any place we needed to go. Those workers in those Mazda factories; man, do they make a quality car!

6)  We closed the garage. One time, we closed the garage, and came back with the garage open. Nothing was stolen. Weird. Modern garage door openers work by transmitting a specific, one-time code to the operator (that big boxy thing attached to your garage ceiling). In the past, garage doors operated on only one code that would be used over and over again, so thieves could capture that code and then open your garage while you were gone. Does my garage opener work the modern way? I don't know, but I assume so. 

7)  We got on the freeway. We pay taxes for infrastructure, so I'm sure things like the Bay Bridge and the freeways I drive on are perfectly safe. CalTRANS workers and those contractors and engineers, they went to college for these things, so they know. 

8)  Let's skip the accident for now.

9)  We called 911. It rang twice. The lady answered and asked immediately where we were. I told her, hoping that she knew what I meant. She asked some questions then said she would dispatch people immediately. 

10) We gave the police officer an account of what happened. I couldn't see what he was writing, and he actually wrote very little, so I assume police officers have shorthand for the entire narrative and description we gave him of how we were hit. One of the officers said our car was peeled like a sardine can and then laughed, as though Patty and I were not shaken humans but a pair of small fish. They gave us a small piece of white paper with a number on it and said we'd have the report in a couple of weeks. We were not at fault, and I really don't see how anyone could argue we were, but who knows what's going to go in that report? Who knows what the driver who hit us said? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

11)  We filed a claim with the insurance adjuster, who I'm sure will offer us a fair settlement and a fair offer for our car if it's totaled. I mean, I am absolutely certain of it. 

12)  We waited on the side of the freeway for nearly an hour and a half. The first tow truck that came wasn't a flatbed. I'd heard stories of people who'd gotten into accidents after pulling to the shoulder of the freeway or trying to fix a flat tire. But we waited in the car. Someone was supposed to come and take us off the freeway to be safe, but he didn't arrive until a minute after the second tow truck came. We rode to the body shop in this stranger's tow truck. He made racist comments about other drivers. He answered his cell phone while driving. I was too happy to get out of the truck when we arrived at the body shop.

13)  We spoke with the body shop worker. She made a spiel. The spiel took five minutes. There were a lot of hand movements. She used the word "honest" a lot. We signed some paperwork. She took us out to get stuff from the car and immediately gasped at the damage, then said she couldn't tell us what she thought. She said they would dismantle the car and let us know today what their original estimate would be. It's 7pm, and we haven't heard from her.

14)  We rode in a compact car to the rental car company, driven by an 80-year old man who complained that he couldn't see a car coming when we drove off the body shop parking lot. He was a nice guy and talked a lot when he should've been paying more attention to the road. He probably could've taken us anywhere, but lucky for us, he actually took us to the rental car office.

15)  We rented a car. They gave us a car smaller than what had gotten into an accident, but he assured us that's what our insurance policy would cover. It would've been easy to check, but hey, we were completely sore and tired and stressed. We gave him a credit card for a security deposit. Then we signed some paperwork. I hope I didn't sign away my esophagus, my spleen, or other part of my body. Or my first novel. Then we drove off in another car that we'd never driven before. A Nissan. I'm pretty sure those workers in that Nissan factory are superb workers. I'm sure Nissan has security controls to ensure faulty parts don't make it into the actual vehicles. Yeah, it's a good, quality car, and I'm sure the rental car place checked the oil and tires.

16)  We went to the doctor. We told them what happened. We listened to the doctor. We listened to their expertise about what was going on inside our bodies. They told us about how much more sore we'd be tomorrow. They gave us some prescriptions.

17)  We went to the pharmacy. We picked up these pills that people in white lab coats on the other side of the counter put in bottles for us. These are the medications the doctor ordered. There can be no mistakes here. My name is on the bottle, so they are my medications and not someone else's. We listened to the pharmacy intern tell us about what to do and what not to do with the medications. She sounded very serious.

18)  We ordered some pho at a restaurant. We gave them a credit card, which they slid through a machine that sent our information somewhere. They came out with cartons of meat and sprouts and soup and some fried shrimp we ordered. We took the food home and ate it. It was delicious.

19)  We ate dessert, brownies my parents brought from a local bakery. They, too, were delicious. In fact, I'm eating one now:

Yum. Hopefully there's no poison in here!

Yum. Hopefully there's no poison in here!

20)  We took the medications and went to sleep.

21)  Back to the accident. The response we received from friends and family were overwhelming. So first, thanks for the love. It's true what many of you said, we're alive when we easily could not have been. It's crazy how, while driving, we constantly have our lives in the hands of people who we will likely never meet. Are they mad? Temporarily crazy? I once had a guy shoot me with a finger gun when I came a little too close to him after he cut me off. I once had a guy dump things out of his sunroof at me because, well, I'm actually not sure. You've been to the DMV, as have I. We trust those people to make sure only the right people get licenses. Are the tests hard enough? Are people obeying the rules? Are their cars operating properly? It can be stressful to think that one wrong move by a stranger and your life could just end. How can we continue to trust? How can we continue to move forward when anyone - a government agency, a home builder, an alarm company, a car maker, a drug maker, a doctor, a driver, a tow truck, a body shop, an insurance company, a cook, a pharmacist, a police officer, a civil engineer, a rental car company, and a million of other people who have no vested interest in us as individuals can make us crash at any time?

Well, because the police came in ten minutes. Because our home builder corrected all the mistakes they made. Because the body shops I've worked with have always done quality work. Because the insurance adjusters I've dealt with have mostly been fair. Because I've been driving on roads and bridges my whole life. Because I've eaten food prepared at restaurants and am still here. Because the water that comes out of my sink is clean. Because our car was running great. Because the I can see the doctor's eyes when he talks to me. Because I used to work at a rental car company, and not everyone there is an a-hole. Because my Lola, who died one month ago today, trusted with her entire being, even when she lost her sight and had to rely on others to show her the way. Because we're humans, and as such most of us care about one another, because even when people are taken away from you, and you had a near death experience, and your back hurts and ribs hurt and your unsure what the near future will hold for you, there's really nothing to do but shake it off and let Taylor Swift teach us the way:


Trust (or The Clothes in the Hamper)

by Elison Alcovendaz

You wake up in the morning to your alarm clock. The time on the phone is right. It's smart, after all. You know it. You'd put your career on the line to that clock. You go take a shower and let that water into your mouth and eyes because you know - you know - that water is safe. The city said so. They got testers. They pay people for that. You watch your wife put on her make-up. You brush your teeth with that toothpaste you bought at that store, you put on that deodorant, that lotion, and nah, of course none of those things have long-term effects. The FDA said those things were good. If not, some other official organization. Official, like, they report to people. They report to leadership. Those experts about stuff that work in that building somewhere.

You put on warm clothes. The meteorologist said it would be cold. You set the alarm to your house. You lock your doors. You see the fence but you don't ever think about it. What's there to think about? It's a fence. It keeps people out. Before you get to your car you wave at your neighbors. Those neighbors you've said three words to in six months. Those neighbors respect that fence just like you respect their fence. It's six feet tall and has splinters in it. No one would climb that fence. People don't do that. Just like people don't break windows. 

You kiss your wife before she gets into her car. You get in your car. The one those guys at the dealer you always go to serviced last weekend. Those guys know cars. They even listed them on the receipt they had you sign. There was proof they knew stuff. It was right there. You start the car. It works of course. All those parts working together like that is just amazing. You put your kid in his car seat. They said it should no longer be rear-facing - I mean, they said it. You buckle him in and then buckle yourself in. You drive. You see other drivers. All those people who have been deemed worthy to drive because they understand the rules of the road are driving those multi-ton machines built by that factory in that country over there and are whizzing by you and your child, everywhere. You stop at that light. You see a cop. You see a green light. You drive. 

You drop your kid off at a babysitter. Nothing can happen there. You have vetted this babysitter. Your friend said she was good. Or if your kid is older, you will drop him at school. He will be taught all the right things by people who love their job and are good at it, too. He will read books. There are a lot of books he will read. Books that a group somewhere decided were the best books all kids should read. He will play with other children who will not do anything to him. I mean, these are other kids we're talking about. He will learn things that some agency that was put together to decide stuff said was necessary to learn. He will learn these things even though there are 35 other kids in his classroom with him. Taxes fund these schools. You pay your taxes. He will learn these things.

You get to work. You won't get paid until the end of the month but you know you will get paid. I mean, it has happened for two straight years now. The money is just there and then you start on the next month. You work on a computer that is protected. It has things like firewalls on it. Only you and your IT staff can see it. That's the way it is. You lock your sensitive documents in that locked drawer. It stays locked when you go to lunch. There's another key somewhere, but, well, no one does those kinds of things.  

At lunch you got to that cool new spot and check-in on Facebook and order the sandwich, the one with the meat and vegetables and bread that came from that place that collects these things and delivers them to the restaurant. You order water. You drink it. While you are waiting for your food you get a text. It is from your wife. It is from your wife because it says so. I mean, who else would be texting you at this time and you know her phone number, they assigned it, its right there on your phone - there's even a picture that pops up! - it is her. You text for a while then you get your food and you eat it. It is delicious. You give the waiter your credit card and he goes to the back to run it. You drink more water. You get the bill and sign it and leave the receipt there on the table with your signature on it. You go back to work.

When work is done, you pick your son up. He isn't crying. Everything is fine. Or, he says school is fine. Everything is fine. You go home. The fence is there. You wave at your neighbors. You go inside. It was hot all day so you shower again. Your son is playing a game on his computer. Your wife isn't home yet. You put a microwave dinner into the microwave and you heat it up and you cut it and you give it to your son. Then you make one for yourself. It is the perfect temperature.

You watch the news. They are talking about Syria. They are telling you about Syria. You watch another channel. They are also talking about Syria. They are telling you something else about Syria. We shouldn't intervene, you think, or we're talking to long to intervene, you think. You go online. You read some articles about other things. You didn't see the game but your team won. The score says it right there. You read about an animal that's going extinct. You read about a scientific discovery they made. You read about how to prevent skin cancer. You read about why GMOs are bad. You read about the hundred new healthy diets that all purport to do what exactly you're not quite sure. You read the mainstream news. You read the not-so mainstream news. You check Facebook. You get unsolicited life advice from your friends.  You see a person you haven't seen since middle school. You add them, even though it doesn't look like them. You put your birthday on your profile. What an easy way to connect. Your wife still isn't home.  

Your son is still playing that game, the one those people made. That one agency rated it a PG so you know it is okay. Your home phone rings. Someone is calling you. It is not your wife. She would not call the home phone before calling your cell phone. You know this. You let it go to voice mail. The voice mail will take the call for you. That's how it works. That's what it was built for. You listen. It is a damn telemarketer. The telemarketer is selling you something. You hate telemarketers. You delete the message once the person stops talking.  

You put your son to sleep and turn on the baby monitor. Those things are genius. Or, your son is still playing that game. You check your phone. No calls. No texts. It is an old phone but it works. She has not called. She has not texted. You go online and the computer boots up just like that. You connect to the internet just like that. You have a firewall too. And a password for your wi-fi. You go to that website and buy that shirt you were looking at last week. You put your credit card in and hit send. The same credit card you gave to the waiter earlier that day. You check your emails. She has not emailed. You know she hasn't because there is no email from her in your in-box. Or in your spam. She has not communicated at all. She has not texted, called, or emailed because your phone and computer said so. You check your phone again. 

It is late when your wife arrives. You are already in bed reading a book about the Gulf War. She opens the door and you see her hair is messy. Her clothes are wrinkled. Her hair looks askew. She tells you a story. She tells you how her car broke down on the way home and her phone died and no one would stop and help so she walked the whole ten miles home. You ask where the car is and she says some street near her office. You wonder if you heard a car pull up before you heard her open the front door. She goes to the bathroom and takes a shower and brushes her teeth and gargles with mouthwash. She tells you what she heard about Syria. She tells you she loves you. You look at her and tell her you love her too. When she falls asleep, you go the bathroom and reach into the hamper to check her clothes.