by Glenn Reed
(Swans - June 3, 2013) Ah, the roll-of-dice circumstances of life. Like being "in the wrong place at the wrong time." Say you're driving that same stretch of highway that you travel every day. The traffic is light because it's after rush hour and the sun sits close to the late spring horizon. You start across the metal girder bridge that seems a bit...rickety.
You often wonder when they'll repair or just completely replace it. You briefly enjoy the view of the winding river the span crosses, then turn your head back to the road.
You have a split-second view of the top of the bridge disappearing in front of you and the road just ending. At 60 mph, there's no time to react.
That's clearly being in "the wrong place." Another scenario?
You reach the end of the bridge and continue on your way, briefly remembering that bridge's collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota, back in 2007. Or the one over the Skagit River on Interstate Route 5 near Mount Vernon, Washington, just last week.
That latter example recently hit home for me.
You see, for 12 years I lived in Seattle and frequently traveled over that stretch of I-5 road. But more recently, I resided for six months in Mount Vernon about a mile from this particular bridge and passed over it virtually each and every day that I was there.
I wonder if individuals inside vehicles plummeting off a collapsed bridge have time to think "Damn! I was in the wrong place at the wrong time!"
Probably not, and I'd rather not find out through experience. I'm sure that if you do survive such a fall, the adrenalin rush and instinct kicks out thoughts of popular sayings for a while. Those comments will come later in retelling the story of the close call.
That is if you don't drown in the waters in which you've landed.
So how many "thank your lucky stars," speak solemnly that "it was God's will," or dramatically wipe your brow and claim you "dodged a bullet" when hearing of such incidents? How many exclaim that the country better do something about our infrastructure, agree with that editorial proclaiming that sentiment in the daily paper, listen to the talking heads on CNN, Fox, or MSNBC pontificate about crumbling bridges, highways, sidewalks, parks and recreation areas, schools, wastewater treatment plants, dams, etc.?
At least until the next commercial. Or the latest fear-mongering story on thwarted terrorist acts or warnings about a new strand of disease for which there is no cure. Or the latest Obama, Kardashian, or Tim Tebow "scandal."
Those in power love to keep everyone distracted, of course. They want all of us entertained, passive, inactive, out of the loop and uninvolved in the decisions that shape our neighborhoods, our towns, our states, our countries, our world. They're perfectly happy to keep us in a global casino, where the bad decisions that they make are one huge gamble....but one where the rest of us continually lose out as we're blinded by the flashing lights, deafening noise, and the all-you-can-eat buffets that render us fat, complacent, and addicted.
Mostly we keep losing small change in this process. Playing the slots. Losses gradually adding up. Like the frog in the pot of water on the stove, with the heat gradually turned up.
Too late, we realize we're scalded and being boiled alive. We wake up in our 70s and our Social Security has been decimated and we're eating cat food. We lose all of our savings due to a catastrophic illness and health care costs in a society without universal health care, or we're forced into bankruptcy from tens of thousands in education debt, with the only job we can get paying minimum wage with no benefits. We turn on the kitchen faucet and can't drink the water anymore or look out in our yards and find not green grass, but tar sand sludge.
Too late, we wonder why we've been blindly gambling for so long. All the rent money's gone into one pull of the one-armed bandit at a time. There are no exits from this casino and it's time to "pay the piper."
We realize we were complicit in creating "the wrong place at the wrong time."
We all speed onto that bridge, nagging thoughts in the back of our minds. It's ready to collapse from lack of maintenance due to budget cuts, gutted regulations that allow for overloaded trucks, a vampiric economy gorging itself on the blood of the planet while spewing its toxic waste with total abandon.
Then we're all falling to the river below.
Yeah, I avoided disaster on that bridge in Washington. I ran the Boston Marathon in 1985 and was in that very spot where a bomb exploded in 2013. I drank an Odwalla during that period when they were recalled because of dozens of cases of salmonella. I was scrambling up a Washington peak one summer afternoon when I heard the rock slide crash down the mountain somewhere below, just out of my eyesight.
Hadn't I just been in that spot? Thank my lucky star!
But I'm still existing in that little casino where we all sit, entranced, as the man behind the curtain who pulls all the strings sits on one big bridge connecting us to Mother Earth. Only the casino's in the back of a tractor trailer, careening down a highway. The drunken driver, with his military-industrial complex, bottom-line ledger, and global economy for the 1% mentality, drives blindly and weaves back and forth. He slams into the bridge supports and the structure collapses, guaranteeing that it's a bridge to nowhere.
Nowhere but down.
And then, while the rest of us bounce crazily in the back of the truck, it plummets to the dark, swirling waters below. Too late, we all finally realize that the "wrong place at the wrong time" was something we could have prevented all along.
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About the Author
Glenn Reed is a freelance writer who has worked in the non-profit world for nearly 30 years, both as paid staff and volunteer. He is also a lifelong activist for social, economic, and environmental justice. Originally from Vermont he is currently residing in Washington State and working in the non-profit world. (back)