Friday, October 25, 2013

Death on the GWB- Chapter Two- (A Work of Fiction)

Bob Smith had never been in trouble with the law, never questioned by the police, never the subject of an investigation. He was much like almost everyone who is reading these words and saying that could never happen to me.

Smith had been a high school football player, a fullback, bulking up to 225 pounds. He was known for delivering ferocious blows to defensive players who entered his domain. He was a hitter.

After high school he had gotten out of shape, at one point reaching close to 250 pounds. Now, and for the last two decades, his weight had held steady between 190 and 195. At six foot one inch, he was, for his age, built like a rock. He worked at being fit, not only biking over 100 miles on most weekends, but being a constant visitor to the gym weekday mornings at 6 AM.

Smith wasn't certain how fast he had been going when he struck Mary Dolan. It was somewhat common practice for cyclists, at least cyclists who were serious like he was, to travel across the GWB at relatively high speed. There was an inherent belief in the capacity of the skilled rider to deal with any situation that could arise and an equally strong  implicit understanding that all who walked on that pathway quickly moved once a biker came near. And this time there was also that rush of adrenaline Smith experienced as he led his group out of New Jersey and back home.

Smith stumbled across a troubling story as he combed the internet searching for something to help quiet his mind. The headline of the 2012 article in the San Francisco Chronicle read "Was the Cyclist Who Killed the Pedestrian Reckless?"  It appeared that biker may have been traveling at a speed of over 30 MPH when the fatal collision took place.

As he read, Smith worked at distinguishing those facts from what had happened to him.  Smith had been a lawyer for almost 30 years but he had only dealt with one criminal matter in his entire career. As a young associate at a small firm, he had been handed a file involving a clear case of mistaken identity. The defendant had been hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime at the time it occurred. He had his time card from his employment and the sworn statement of a fellow worker. Smith, even though he was totally incapable of handling that case, or any case involving something other than equitable distribution of assets and establishing a fair level of support, had been able to convince the prosecutor to drop the charges. This time he feared would not be so simple.

A 2011 study in New York City reported there were at least 1000 reported injuries sustained every year by pedestrians struck by bicycles. The report had been a response to questions raised by a group that had been formed in 2009. A widow, whose husband had been struck and killed by a delivery man on a bike on 42nd street, had begun a crusade to investigate the issue of bike safety and what could be done to insure safe passage for pedestrians on the streets of New York.

In April of 2013 New York City issued rules to protect the public from the ever increasing menace of those darting through the streets and sidewalks on the way to their appointed rounds. The new law mandated that delivery riders carry ID cards, wear helmets and reflective upper body clothing. The name of the business and the ID number of the cyclist was to be displayed. Headlights and bells were mandated. Both the Department of Transportation and the police were given the power to cite violators.

Yet the problem only grew worse as a result of what could be considered a mad dash to beat Amazon to the finish line. What had begun years before as the phenomenon of overnight delivery, had been ratcheted up by Amazon's fulfillment centers throughout the country. Products could now be ordered and received the same day. But for those in New York City, and in areas around the country, this was not soon enough. And so, "valets" were now being dispatched, personal shoppers on bicycles. Orders were placed, bikers dispatched, and promises of same hour service were made. At holiday time, the madness only escalated. And the "accidents" multiplied, as pedestrians became collateral damage in this war against the clock.

One more matter increased the possibility of  harm. On May 27, 2013 New York City initiated its CitiBikes program. By mid-September it had been declared a big success. As of September 12, 2013 there had been nearly 3.2 million trips on these bikes, and 288,000 subscribers to the program. Bikes had never been more popular or more prevalent on the streets and sidewalks. Bikes were now news and, in October of 2013, were the subject of an oped piece in the Sunday New York Times.

Bob Smith had been more than in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was at the wrong moment in history.

As he picked up his cell phone to call the law office of a man he had never met but had read about throughout the years, a thousand thoughts rushed through his mind, but two persisted: "What will the rest of my life be?" and "I killed her."


Tom Dolan met Mary Walters the year after college. He had earlier been in a serious relationship that had started the first week  he entered the small liberal arts university in New England. Through Tom's four years there, he and his girlfriend had been almost inseparable. When he thought back on those days, he decided  he had made a mistake, depriving himself of far too much of what the experience should have been.

After college, Tom returned to his parent's home in New Jersey. Distance proved the undoing of his college romance, and even though there was no official decision to end it, both he and his soon to be former girlfriend began to create new lives without one another.

Tom discovered Mary that fall. She was a year younger than him, small, only five feet tall and weighing no more than 100 pounds. She was pretty, and best of all, she was athletic. Although Tom was only five feet seven inches (on a good day) and 140 pounds, he considered himself an athlete. He had been a "natural", able to throw a ball earlier than almost anyone else his age. Until his early teens, when others started to mature physically and pass him by, Tom was a star. Even now he had a hard time not thinking of himself in the same terms as he did at 10.

Mary had decided to stay in the area for college. She went to school in the city, often commuting from her parent's home in the suburbs of Bergen County, for a semester or two living in the college dorms.

Her first date with Tom had been memorable for him if not for her. They had dined at a local restaurant after having played an hour of tennis. She had more than held her own and, whether she knew it or not, Tom was very impressed. At dinner, Tom had brought a bottle of wine, but even then he was not much of a drinker. Mary had finished off far more than her date and was slightly drunk by the time they headed back to Mary's home. As Tom dropped her off, he said he was low on gas and would call her when he got home. As the phone rang, she was in her nightgown and almost asleep. Tom thought he had not made much of an impact.

They were engaged within six months and married a year after meeting. Now, almost forty years later, there was no more Mary.

Tom thought that he had never been alone, really alone, his entire life: a college girlfriend as soon as he left home,  then a return to his boyhood bedroom and finally, Mary. She had been taking care of him from the moment she said "I do". His life and hers were even more inseparable than that he experienced during his college years. They had worked in business together for more than 30 years. Out of the office she covered up almost all of his faults with her abilities. While he was known for being inept, she was anything but. Every lightbulb that had to be replaced, every knob that needed fixing, every meal that was cooked, every important piece of Tom's life, every good thing that had happened, everything was because of Mary.

And now he cursed himself for his lack of courage on the GWB.. With the image of  his fallen wife seared into his brain, a thousand thoughts rushed through his mind, but two persisted: "What will the rest of my life be?" and "I killed her."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Apology

For those few of you who have followed me on my writing odyssey, you know that I have written but a handful of fiction pieces among the almost 1000 entries that have now been posted on my blog. Those attempts have been met with almost universal silence.

Yesterday, I took another stab at it. "Death on the GWB" was a fabricated tale of a man whose fear of heights led to tragedy (not surprisingly, I suffer from a fairly pronounced case of acrophobia and have traveled that very walkway on foot a number of times, all with unnecessary trepidation).  My words came with no explanation. I mistakenly believed that all would read this as yet one more failed attempt at literary genius.

Shockingly to me, I received comments on my blog, emails to me personally, and a number of calls all responding to the made up tragedy as though it had actually occurred. I never intended this as an effort to produce a "War of the Worlds" moment, but I had in fact created unanticipated consequences.

I give my sincere apology to any of you who were misled. I meant only to provide you with a few seconds of entertainment. Mea culpa.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Death on the GWB (A Work of Fiction)

Water clearance at the mid-span of the George Washington Bridge is 212 feet.

 It was a perfect early fall afternoon. The wind had vanished, not a cloud in a radiant blue sky. The air could be deeply breathed, the colors bursting from nearby trees. And so, a Fort Lee resident, aged 61, Tom Dolan and his wife decided to walk across the great gray bridge they stared at every day from their apartment a few hundred yards away.

They had done this many times notwithstanding the fear that accompanied each step of Mr. Dolan's journey. He always walked as far as he could from the railing intended to act as impenetrable barrier to the Hudson below. He almost seemed to list into the lane of traffic that sped by no more than an arms length away. His gaze never veered towards the water, his neck locked in place, peering straight ahead, or at his own feet.

It was not the two legged occupants of this walkway that troubled him so, but the two wheeled ones. Although he did worry that some unhinged human might suddenly descend upon him and hoist him over the railing and to a watery grave, he reserved almost all of his anxiety for the hordes of bikers who fled the city on weekend mornings for their ride up the Palisades.

They came in packs, a multi-colored flash that took up far too much of the limited terrain. He would flinch internally each time one went by, an imperceptible twitch in his step. He talked with his wife about those who sped past, some giving fair warning and a thank you for moving out of their way, while others offered neither notice or gratitude.

Yet it was not the ones he could see approaching, but those that came from behind, that concerned him the most. He never heard them, never. Whether it was the noise from the traffic close by, or advancing age made no difference. The problem was the riders who thought he knew when he didn't.

The New York/New Jersey Cycle Club was founded in 1927. It now boasted close to 3000 members. It invited people of all ages and abilities to join and offered the opportunity for "fun, friendship, fitness and fantastic views of the metropolitan area."

Among its most popular rides were those that crossed the Hudson River each Saturday and Sunday and headed into Bergen County, through northern New Jersey and then into Rockland County, New York, before returning to where the journey began.

On this day a trip left from the east side of the city, at 72nd Street near the Central Park Loeb's Boathouse. 37 riders met at 6:30 AM to begin a 61 mile journey that promised "colorful foliage" and a stop for lunch with free bagels and water.

When he read the description, Bob Smith immediately signed up. Smith had been a member of the club for five years. He was 53, fit after a full season of being a weekend warrior on the bike. He loved everything about these opportunities. Living within blocks of the Boathouse made it that much easier.

Tom Dolan had an uneasy feeling as he left the apartment. Not that he didn't always have a similar sensation each time he was about to place a shaky foot on the road to Manhattan. But he said nothing, for anything he uttered would only make him look foolish. He and his wife exited their building, telling the doorman about their intended walk and received perfunctory congratulations on their choice and their stamina.

Bob Smith enjoyed a remarkable day. Yet, coming back into Bergen County he felt slightly depressed. As the bridge came ever closer to him, he experienced  a pang of anxiety that quickly passed. He wrote it all off as a reaction to knowing that this experience would soon be behind him.

As Dolan took his first steps onto the short pathway leading to the bridge, Smith was about 300 yards behind, coming down the last incline on Hudson Terrace. He was toward the front of the pack of riders, third in line. He would pass under Route 95, the roadway above him that took motorists through the toll booth and onto the mile long span that connected New York and New Jersey. Shortly after, he would make a sharp left turn, leaving Hudson Terrace and entering the same route that Dolan was now on.

The website for the New York/ New Jersey Cycle Club had a section devoted to the biker's responsibility code. Apart from warning that no devices of distraction like headphones or ear-buds  should ever be used, it stressed that safety for yourself and others was the first rule of the road. Bob Smith took this advice seriously, and considered himself anything but a danger while on his bike.

Entrance onto the walkway leading to the bridge was narrow. The lead bikes in Smith's group bunched up, and he took the opportunity to move to the head of the pack. It was the first time that he had taken on this role for the crossing into Manhattan. He felt strong and there was a small rush of adrenaline that accompanied this decision.

About 250 yards ahead, Dolan and his wife were just entering the bridge expanse. Dolan's gait always changed as soon as this happened, each step with a little wobble caused not by the tremors from the automobiles so close by on his left, but by the acrophobia that he tried to control.

Smith passed several walkers as he moved ever closer towards Dolan and his wife. He gave small shouts of "on your left" as he came upon those in front of him. Each of those he went by received a small nod of thanks. Dolan and his wife were next up, now only about 50 yards from the leader of the pack.

As the distance between him and the two walkers narrowed, Smith gave his note of warning. Dolan heard nothing. A split second later, Smith repeated his statement, this time with more urgency.
Dolan's wife heard the second cry distinctly. She was walking no more than a foot from the barrier that separated her from the waters more than 200 feet below. She reached her arm out to pull her husband away from the bike that was now coming veryclose. She yelled for him to "Move, MOVE".

When Smith saw that the man in front of him was not reacting as he should, but seemed to be veering INTO HIS INTENDED PATH, and would leave no room to pass on the left, he panicked. In that instant, he surveyed the options before him. He could try to move left but the railing separating him from the cars on the bridge awaited this decision. He could slam on his brakes and try to minimize the impact on the body now looming almost directly in front. Or, he thought he saw an opening to the right, between the man and his wife. If he could accelerate and slither through...

As the arm of Dolan's wife and part of her left side came into contact with the speeding bicycle there was a distinct snapping sound. The force of the impact had broken her left arm and cracked several ribs. In an instant she was pushed violently into the steel rail on her right. She quivered momentarily from the pain.Then she bounced off and pitched down head first onto the waiting concrete path.

At its worst, there was a three hour backup reported at the toll plaza leading to the George Washington Bridge and passage into New York. The first emergency vehicle arrived at the scene only four minutes after the collision. The transit authority reported that it was the first biker-pedestrian fatality in the history of the roadway.

Tom Dolan was uninjured, not a scratch on him. He stood over the body of his wife and let out small sobs, one after another, after another.

Bob Smith was questioned briefly by the police at the scene and then issued a Miranda warning. He refused to answer further questions.

The prosecutor's office is investigating the incident and said it had no statement to make at this time.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tinkers to Evers to Cruz

("Texans Stick With Cruz Despite Defeat in Washington")

Quixote to Custer to Cruz. No, not a legendary double play combination, but a Texas sized vision of heroic struggle against all odds.

It turns out that Don Quixote was but a hallucination of Alonso Quijano, a man who had lost touch with reality. In his altered state, he ended up tilting at windmills, not the fearsome giants that his troubled mind misperceived.

And Custer's last stand may well have been a result of his many tactical blunders. It appears that the general irreparably weakened his forces by dividing them, scattering his men so that they were unable to provide the needed support in battle. Historical analysis reveals that it was most likely mere hubris and miscalculation that led to the demise of those in Custer's control.

On that level, the grouping of Senator Cruz with the others seems perfectly appropriate.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Lessons Not Learned

If recent history is an accurate forecaster, the Republican party will not be chastened by the debacle of the past several weeks.

After the 2012 election, there were many who said that immigration reform was assured as the Republicans could no longer afford the political fallout from their abhorrent treatment of such a significant portion of our population.  Where is that reform?

After the Newtown massacre, there were many who said that gun control was assured as the Republicans could no longer afford to be seen as unfettered supporters of these weapons of such mass destruction. Nothing has changed.

And even looking at what now appears as ancient history, when the Republicans first took us to the edge of the debt ceiling precipice and our country was damaged so, there were many who said that this folly would never be repeated if the Republican party intended to survive. And yet we have been witness to a second round of this particular brand of lunacy.

So, even if we hear words from some Republicans, like Mitch McConnell, that make us hope that the worst is behind us, we take little solace. There is scant evidence to suggest that his party has any intention of learning its lessons.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What If They Just Don't Care

("US Fringe Festival")

What if the Republicans don't care who they alienate with their government by extortion philosophy?

What if they see a changing demographic of the country that will, for the foreseeable future, keep them from majority rule in the Senate or control of the White House even if they were to suddenly abandon their present ways?

What if they also see a gerrymandered House where they could eviscerate our economy, and take down most of the rest of the world in the process, and still rule that body?

So, if the political landscape is not to be fundamentally altered no matter their actions, where is the catalyst for them to stop the madness?

What if they feel they would be irrelevant but for the ability to manipulate the process?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Watch Your Language

("Nazis, Lynching and Obamacare")

Maybe it is, thanks to the Republican misbegotten strategy, that we govern from crisis to crisis where everything has the feel of a tsunami.

Maybe it is that hyperbolic metaphor makes statements rise like a serpent's head from the rest of the sea of noise that emanates in our 24 hour cycle of examination and interpretation.

Maybe it is that we have grown increasingly intellectually lazy and the use of proper language to express ideas is a dinosaur facing extinction.

Maybe it is that years from now we will be speaking in metaphorical comparisons to Tea Party nut-jobs, those hostage taking, gun to the head, we love the smell of blood, sharks who try to circle in for the kill of Obamacare.

Whatever the underlying reason, Mr. Bruni is absolutely correct in his plea for us to stop misappropriating terms from distinct events. You just hit a home run, Mr. Bruni, knocked one out of the park. Take a curtain call.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rebels Without A Cause

My mind's on fire, conflagration
I'm filled with ire, consternation
I'm agitated by your games
You should be ashamed

Its hard to think, contemplation
Can't sleep a wink, concentration
I'm aggravated by your obfuscation    
You should be restrained

You're intellectually lazy and despicably cruel
You're myopic, misanthropic, the perpetual fool 
You're puerile, hostile, a perennial tool
This is not a love story      

My belly's aching, its of your making
My heart is hurting from you I'm certain
Tears in my eyes, plaintive cries
Emptiness is all I see. 

Food without taste, steps without pace
You have stolen the joy and taken the meaning
Days without reason,  moments of treason
You have plundered, and pilfered and purloined

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A History Lesson

Its not so much that it was the product of well over a year of discussion and compromise, that it survived a trip to the Supreme Court and a surprising swing vote by Justice Roberts, or that it was the centerpiece for the 2012 campaign which resulted in an overwhelming victory for President Obama. It is that the Affordable Care Act is at its very core a decidedly Republican idea.

It grew out of the mind of a right wing think tank and was put into place in Massachusetts, with apparent great success, by the Republican standard bearer this past November,  Mr. Romney, whose name was the first attached to this method of distribution of health care services.

The reflexive determination to oppose has led to great victories for a party that garnered millions of fewer votes, both on the Presidential and Congressional level in the last election, and is holding the reins to but one of the three government branches. Immigration reform was dead on arrival, gun control has been an overwhelming debacle and bank regulation is nowhere in sight. Drill baby drill is a very dirty secret and minimal environmental inroads are only a result of executive action.

By its threats and obstructionism it has forced the President to enter into the not so grand bargain for sequestration and to abandon even the pretense of fighting for any tax increases on the wealthy. Stimulating the economy has been a job that has fallen to Ben Bernanke.

Why under those circumstances would they feel they are making a mistake in their present stance?

So, forget that they are screaming for the death of their own idea on health care reform. While rational beings shake their heads and wonder what could be driving such apparent idiocy, the answer is history.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Marx Brothers on Republican Strategy

("Those Banana Republicans")

The Marx brothers said it best (from "A Night at the Opera')

Groucho Marx: "That's the usual clause, that's in every contract. That just says, it says that if any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, this contract is automatically nullified".

Chico Marx: "Well, I don't know."

Groucho Marx: Its alright. That's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause.

Chico Marx: (Laughing) "You can't fool me. There ain't no sanity clause".