One minute, we were cruising along, singing to the radio. We were just “sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away.” You know the song.
The next minute, a police car pulled out right in front of me, flashing its red and blue lights and stopping all the traffic.
“What’s going on? What is that?” I asked, pointing to a gray compacted mass in the middle of the opposite lanes. “Is that a golf cart? Was someone try to drive a golf cart down the highway? Geez.”
Reality slowly unfolded for me as my eyes followed the mass of metal to a shoe on the pavement, from the shoe to a body.
The body was sprawled out upside-down on the grassy embankment, arms and legs askew, looking like someone who got caught between the “X” and “Y” while doing the human alphabet. The rest of the car – not a golf cart, but a car – was behind him, still fairly intact. Oh shit. I was in the car with my best friend, on our way home from Des Moines on Highway 65/69. I was suddenly so thankful that I’d tried on both pairs of jeans at the Gap. I didn’t even notice the black car a few feet up the road, driver and passenger still inside, alive and trapped under the obliterated hood.
I can’t say for sure how long we sat there, parked on the highway, across from a dead man. We were there before the ambulances. No one had covered him up. It felt like days.
I started to cry, repeating “It’snotanyoneweknow it’snotanyoneweknow it’snotanyoneweknow … is it?” mindlessly.
It scared the shit out of me, enough to make me watch the speed limit. Enough to make me worry about my friends and family coming and going on that road. Highway 65/69 is Simpson’s lifeline to civilization. It’s how we go shopping, go out to eat, go to work. Students might make two trips a day on it, if they work at Southridge Mall or commute to campus. It is, arguably, not designed to be the high-speed roadway it’s often used as. I found out later that the black car was going 30 mph over the speed limit when it struck the gray car.
Indianola is teeming with high-school and college students, making any long stretch of road liable to become a raceway. The problem is, 65/69 is rife with hills that are hard to see over and cars constantly turn onto the highway or try to cross it. Combing those two logistics with high speed is not a good idea.
This summer, there were at least three other fatal accidents on the same stretch of highway leading from Indianola to south Des Moines. Two happened – unrelated – within six hours of each other. In 2000, there were 771 accidents in Warren county alone, causing eight fatalities and 433 injuries. Holy crap.
Did no one else’s parents teach them that following too closely, not signaling your turn 300 feet out or passing on the right would lead to leprosy?
OK, maybe I’m a little anal about driving. But I’ll tell you what: anytime someone’s grill is filling up my rearview mirror, all it would take is a little tap on the brakes and Kate would have herself a new car. Tempting, yes, but Kate might have herself a new feeding tube, too.
The problem is, there seems to be nothing in place to stop the accidents. I would’ve thought the sign that reads “Prepare to Meet Thy Maker” on one of the curves would be enough to scare people … well, I guess those signs that say “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” have never really changed my mind about anything. Hmm.
I’ve hardly ever seen a cop along 65/69 leading up to Indianola. And trust me, more than once I’d have been in trouble if there was. There’s no precedent set to keep kids from speeding to and from Indianola. If there had been a police car parked alongside the road or if there had even been the legend of cops policing the road, that car might not have been going 95 that day. All it takes is one parked police car and, all of a sudden, people will slow down.
If I see a cop, I’ll warn my friends not to speed. Actually, I warn them anyway. Because I don’t want to pull up next to any more corpses.
And – yes, I’m feeling melodramatic – I don’t want anyone to pull up next to mine.