Monday, January 22, 2007

The all-powerful traffic light at the unusually deserted intersection

It is hard to believe that just a few days ago Austin was coated in a considerably thick (really more like a ¼ of an inch) layer of ice. Confusion swept the city. Accidents occurred everywhere. Children frolicked in the once green pastures trying to make miniature snowmen. Adults fought off cabin fever. And architecture students rejoiced as they snuggled up in bed and slept that extra few hours or watched that fifth movie of the day. But today is Sunday and the “Texas Winter” weather has returned.

The sun is shining brightly for the first time in a week, warming the air surrounding the ACC Rio Grande Campus to an almost spring-like 65 degrees. It seems all too perfect. This is the type of weather off of which the city of Austin thrives. But something is different here. Whereas the rest of the city is probably alive and well, this intersection is abandoned, forsaken…dead. All that seems to be missing is tumbleweed and the music from an old western film playing softly in the background.

A few blocks down, Creighton hovers over his bicycle, carefully pumping air into each of its two tires. Just as he screws the cap onto the valve of the back tire, his girlfriend, Felicity, emerges from inside the house, strapping her helmet onto her head and flashing a wide grin. A single glance at her, with her hair being pushed into her face by the large object on top of her head, sends Creighton into hysterics. In one swift motion, Felicity removes her helmet and hurls it at her boyfriend. The two share a laugh for a moment, then grab their bikes from the floor of the garage to set on Rio Grande Street for their weekly downtown ride.

On campus, Jeremy, a sophomore at UT, locks the door to his apartment on Rio Grande, hops into his SUV, puts the key in the ignition, and buckles his seat belt without once removing his cell phone from his left ear. He laughs aloud as his best friend reminds him of what he did at the party the night before. Suddenly, he hears a beep and glances at his phone. It’s his mother. After cutting the conversation with his friend short, he answers the call, apologizes for running late, and assures her that he will be at the restaurant within ten minutes. As he quickly approaches 12th Street, he hangs up the phone, turns up the radio. and slows down as the light turns yellow.

With a bag in hand, Hubert makes his way back home from Lamar. Remembering all the unfortunate events of the prior week, he frowns and begins to stomp his feet. After being fired from his job and the car being rear-ended by some moron college student who was driving too fast on the ice, all he wanted was a bagel from Einstein’s for breakfast. A simple bagel with cream cheese…is that too much to ask? Apparently so because he awoke to find a note from his wife saying that she took the car to go shopping. Perfection! Deciding there was no way a lack of transportation would keep him from getting that bagel, he laced up his tennis shoes and walked. Sure, the trip to Einstein’s was an easy one. Each step brought him closer to his tasty reward. But now? Now that his stomach was full and his goal reached, all he had left to do was return home…on foot. Not even an extra bagel for the road could make this enjoyable. As he walks up 12th Street towards Rio Grande, he sees a car at the stop light and a young couple riding up on bicycles. At least they have a mode of transportation. How wonderful. With this sudden jealousy, Hubert picks up his pace, hoping against all odds that he will be able to cross the street before the light on 12th turns red.

When Creighton and Felicity pull up to the intersection, they are forced to come to a halt, the red light blaring at them. There is no traffic on 12th Street, but they stop anyway. Almost immediately, the light turns green and the car next to them speeds off. From across the street, Jeremy watches the couple, waiting for them to cross the street so he can turn onto 12th. He drums his fingers on the steering wheel as he sees the young woman struggle to start pedaling, wondering to himself if he should have just gone on red. Once she crosses, he quickly turns and speeds toward downtown, wishing that he hadn’t stayed at home that extra 15 minutes to see the end of the last episode of “The Real World”.
As the car’s taillights disappear and the young couple rides off into the distance, Hubert finds himself alone, cursing the fact that he didn’t make it to the light in time to cross. He waits for a few moments, shifting his focus from the red hand staring him down on the other side of the street to the barren intersection. Finally, he decides he has had enough and crosses prematurely. Striding swiftly and gracefully, he glances suspiciously at the two architecture students seated at the otherwise deserted bus stop. As the space between him and the intersection increases, all movement ceases once more except for the changing color of the traffic lights. Green, yellow, red: three simple colors; three separate messages; a worldwide understanding.


Heather said...

Good title. I'm impressed that you found something to say at all considering the desertion level at your site. Your three actors all had an interesting perspective. Powerful object.

cmk488 said...

Its the title that really gets me. That explains it all. You know late at night when you are sitting at a traffic light for what seems like an eternity? And then you finally go because you just cant wait any longer and you might fall asleep IN your car AT the light if you dont go ahead and run it? So you do! AND THEN you get pulled over and get a ticket. Your story proves that this can happen in the day too!

Heather said...

That happened to my mom once. She tried to flash her badge to get out of it, but the cop didn't respect the fact that she was kind of an officer of the law. My mom was pissed and I was rolling with laughter...but don't tell her.