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Post-car from the Ledge 

Out here, the cars go by like pneumatic snakes, the rubber wetly clicking, spray splaying everywhere under the hurried gaze of headlights.

Out here in this place of cars, he is actively hating cars. Because guided by their rack-and-pinion steering, they are roaring down the highway in excited mockery of him. Because his own car is off the shoulder of the road, retching metallically and leaving him no way to get where he's going any time soon.

He knows nothing of cars, and somehow cars know this. Still he ought to do something so he turns on his blinking lights, fumble-pops a railroad flare into rosy life, pries his hood up and leaves it there.

What else can be done by a man who can do nothing?

Well, get away from the stalled car in case some midnight cowboy comes flying over that little rise in the Causeway and too much horsepower or tequila doesn't leave him enough brake space to react or adjust and big things go careening and the next thing you know, somebody's going over the side into the moon-washed lake and Lord a-mercy.

He walked along the shoulder into the coming traffic, quickly when none was around, much slower when headlights loomed. He muttered prayers or fragments of prayers from time to time.

As the cars came and went, he guessed at those sitting warmly inside. Breaking down is like dying, a sort of death. You just never think it's going to happen to you. There are factories, cathedrals of machinery, in Bavaria or Tennessee or Japan, filled with those whose whole rhythm of life is dedicated to building a vehicle which will not start vomiting on a causeway. You know it happens -- to those without luck or resources. You study them at 70 mph, looking forlorn on the side of the road. But not to you.

He finally got to a turnaround and some of the fear left the night. He sat down on the curb, hiding from the seeking wind, one minute cold, not the next.

A carload of young boys and girls whooped past. Someone spotted him. Catcalls alighted on the night. Most of them garbled on the wind, but he was pretty sure he could distinguish, "Hey, bee-u-ti-ful!" Beauty, moving at 75 mph. Past him.

He got up and walked over to the railing. Down below, the lake roiled, slapping against the concrete legs of the Causeway. They were holding, like the engineers had calculated, and almost seemed proud of their holding. They needn't be. Calculations or no, causeways come with an expiration date. Waves don't expire.

The moon had joined the lake nicely tonight. It was full and close. There are, he thought, two kinds of full moon. One kind owned the whole slice of sky, spilling its color like a pitcher of milk. This was the other kind. Sharp and clear with no edges, casting a small reflection on the waters like somebody gigging flounder by flashlight in the shallows. It made him think of the here and the there of things and some of the unanswerable questions and why it's necessary to keep asking them.

Into the moonlight sailed a distant boat. The sailors on the boat are as alone with themselves as I am, he thought. But I'll betcha they're liking the experience a lot more than I am.

They're out there because of me. They've heaved anchors and pumped gas and gone through all the troubles that sailors go though, and all to get away even for a night from the bustle flung around by me and others like me.

He turned away from the railing. One of those long hairy-chested trucks whipped by and tooted its horn. Mockery or sympathy? He clasped his hands together and pushed his arms and shook them like an old-time prizefighter being introduced to the crowd. He always did that when hailed by someone he didn't quite recognize. Now he realized what that tiny tic was: a talisman of self-protection, a slight suggestion that the author of such a gesture was friendly but not vulnerable, cocky but nice.

Plenty of us have those tiny tics. One long-ago friend would always stick his baby finger in his ear and wiggle it whenever he was asked a question whose answer did not come readily. Plenty of old-timers would make the Sign of the Cross and then kiss the signing fingertips after quoting or mentioning a certain deceased. It's like a way of pleading with the unseen powers to cut us yet another break. He clasped his hands together and did his tic again.

What's to be done? He thought of this article he'd seen in a newspaper, yet another survey about the way people wanted the city to recover from the hurricane. More green space, most people said. More small stores within walking distance, more everything within walking distance. In other words, the way the city used to be. Before we all got cars and everyone in the house had at least one. We all jumped in them and got as far out of town as we could. Now we're telling survey-takers that we want to walk more.

These rushing drivers, the ones zipping past in the dark? Did any of them answer the survey?

All questions not to be answered. Here's another: where's the bridge police?

Maybe he would try to hitch. Walk near his corpse of a car. Pop another flare and try hitching in the light. What if he got picked up by a drunk or a maniac or just someone who wanted to talk way more than he wanted to listen?

He shrugged inside himself. He walked to a likely spot and lifted his arm with as much dignity as he could muster. Thumb out. You've got to take a chance on other human beings, sooner or later. Here's one slowing down now.

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