The place where I get on the freeway is a stretch of 580 about two minutes away from what is known affectionately as “The Maze,” a collection of flyovers and ramps all converging on, or splitting away from, the Bay Bridge. Merging into traffic here is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, perhaps one in twenty Californians uses their blinkers to signal a lane change. So even if you’re using your blinkers correctly, nobody believes you’re actually signaling your intentions. Rather, they figure you hit the blinkers by accident while reaching for your cannabis vaping pen. In fact, it may be that more California drivers use cannabis vaping pens than use their blinkers.
But I digress.
Last week I was driving on 580, just at the point where it merges with Highway 24. This stretch of the highway is elevated, so you are rocketing along between the rooftops of houses and commercial buildings. Off to my right I see a cherry red, late-1960s muscle car heading toward my lane. I can’t help but crack a smile. In a land full of late-model hybrid vehicles, there is something pure and elemental about a big, bad gas-guzzling whale on its home turf. It is bouncing on its shocks and has a nasty scrape along the left front quarter panel.
I catch a glance of the driver, who appears to be a 19-year-old girl with heavy mascara and a punk rock aesthetic from circa 1985. It is a pretty bad ass combination, the girl and this muscle car. In another time and place, it would have been a Bikini Kill album cover.
I merge over to the far left lane and in another 20 seconds am steering through the beginning of the S-curve that will drop me down into the approach to the Bay Bridge.
EXCEPT A TRUCK IS STOPPED DEAD, DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ME IN THE CURVE.
I hit the brakes hard and come to a stop about six feet short of the truck. Three feet away in the adjacent lane, traffic is moving at 65 mph. I realize instantly that there is a good chance that I’m about to be slammed from behind and look in my rear view mirror. It is then that I see my angel of death. And it is a 19-year-old girl looking through the steering wheel of a big red muscle car bouncing on its shocks. It all makes sense. This is how I am going to die.