Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 14 - Life and Death
Log 14 - Life and Death

Defensive Driving
Lena Salazar


Timing is everything.

Five minutes sooner or later, and we would have missed the whole thing; five miles an hour faster, and it would have been my windshield the body bounced off as it fell from the bridge over the freeway.

Keep your eyes moving’ check speedometer’ 70, 72 maybe’ check rearview’ no one on my tail’

Chris and I driving through Santa Barbara after a night of car camping at Jalama Beach. A sunset beach walk, conversation, mom’s homemade enchiladas cooked in foil over the campfire, more talk, we each sleep in the back of our truck, waves crashing all night long, early morning beach walk, opposite direction, breakfast toast and tea cooked on the campfire grill, more discussion, head back to LA... we can still get in almost a full day’s work’

Aim high in steering’ traffic moving smoothly’ no brake lights ahead’ activity on the bridge coming up’

Two or three people’ I approach doing seventy. No commotion. Just people, walking on the bridge. Or standing. Can’t tell. Doesn’t matter. In a few seconds they’ll be in my rearview’

Maintain your bubble’emergency lane empty to my left’ quick glance over the shoulder’ lane clear to the right’ check rear view’ there’s Chris, following at a safe distance’ cruise at a steady 3 seconds behind the vehicle in front of me’

Just the right distance to see very clearly that it’s a body falling from the bridge. Bounce’ into the windshield of the pickup in front of me. Bounce’ onto the highway, the body lands in the middle of the number two lane.


I steer wide around the body, park on the shoulder. The impacted vehicle stopped about a hundred yards beyond. Chris pulls up immediately in front of me. Run to the Call Box’ I’ve never used one of these things before’ shit’ read directions, push the big yellow button’ frantically’ nothing’ damn things never work in a real emergency’

"Ohmygod, what do we do, Lena, what do we do? Tell me what to do’!" Chris wails.

Shit. She’s freaking out. Give her something to do.

Traffic’s stopped. "Go stand behind the accident, in the middle of the first lane, and wave the cars to move around, through the shoulder." CHP’s priority’ Keep Traffic Moving’

Nothing for me to do. Walk over to the body, a couple of other people standing around. Look at each other, look at him’kinda mangled, thick red halo forming on the asphalt. Can’t tell if he’s alive’ I’m not touching him... no gloves, no equipment, no real need’

Guy comes up with a trauma bag and c-collar’ one of those goddamn yahoos who carries that shit in his personal vehicle’ sirens getting louder in the distance, red lights and wig-wags approaching fast’ I don’t need to be here anymore’

Walk back to my truck’Chris comes, too. Might as well get back on the road. I need a drink. Stopped by a good-looking, blonde CHP officer. Yeah, we saw it happen’we wait, have to give a statement’ and watch.

"Do you think he’ll live?" Chris asks as we look on. Medics are bagging him, he’s not breathing on his own’ all that blood on the pavement, massive head trauma. "Doubt it’"

Good-looking comes back, asks questions, gets our personal information. To me he says, "You look familiar’" Take off my shades, look him in the eye. "I used to be an engineer at Nipomo Fire Station in San Luis County a few years back. If you ever worked North Santa Barbara county, we might’ve run into each other."

No response. He hands back my ID. We head out.

"Lena, you were so cool, you knew exactly what to do," Chris marvels.

Amazing how it all comes back sometimes’

"Did it look really bad?" she wants to know.

"I’ve seen worse’"

Lena Salazar lives and works in Southern California; she is a very good driver.



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room