Saturday, June 3, 2017

Raw Violence

Around noon on Wednesday, the last day of May, a gas tanker on north bound I-25, just south of Denver, careened out of control. It slammed into the median dividing the north and south bound lanes, and burst into flames.

From the office where I work in the Denver Tech Center, we had a clear view of the resulting fire, a mile away. Thick plumes of black smoke rose to the blue midday sky. The injured tanker driver, we learned from online reports, had been transported to a nearby hospital. (Hours later, his condition remains unknown. No one else was hurt.)

As a result of this horrific accident, the freeway shut down in both directions. So did a portion of the light rail train that runs parallel to it. That light rail is the first leg of my commute home.

With the interrupted light rail service, buses began taking affected commuters to the Belleview light rail station, two stops up the line from my usual stop. Service was normal from there.

The bus I boarded was crowded with displaced passengers. It was an ordinary city bus, with one entrance in front and another about halfway back. Inside was hot and stifling, and a tense atmosphere prevailed. I found the only remaining seat.

A minute or so after I got on board, an irritated voice behind me said, “Come on, let’s go! The bus is full!”

A few more minutes passed before we finally lurched forward. We began winding through the heart of the Tech Center, a sprawling, many-miles-long complex of office buildings where thousands work. There is no direct way through it, and we twisted and turned along a sluggish, serpentine route.

Halfway between Arapahoe and Belleview is the Orchard station, not far from the scene of the accident. As we neared it we passed a freeway entrance ramp, where I could see long fire department hoses spraying foamy stuff on the fire.

Since Orchard was shut down we might have bypassed it. But when the driver asked if anyone had to stop there, one passenger did, a guy wearing a green shirt.

“Jesus Christ,” snarled the irritated voice behind me. “The one day I have to pick up my kid!”

“Our tax dollars at work,” whined someone else.

Traffic, already overburdened by cars re-routed from the adjacent freeway, got a little heavier. But after a few more minutes we reached the Orchard station, and stopped.

“Why the fuck are we even here?” asked that irritated voice. “Orchard is still closed!”

“Because somebody has to go here,” someone else calmly replied. “It’s his stop.”

For some reason the guy in the green shirt didn’t get off right away, even though the doors had opened. Instead, he glared back at the guy behind me.

“Come on, man! Get going! I gotta get my fucking kid!”

Green Shirt glared back a moment longer. I sensed a primal challenge, the call of the wild.

“People are so damned impatient,” somebody said.

Green Shirt relented then, and got off the bus.

But the bus didn’t move. I happened to look out the window to my right. And suddenly there was Green Shirt, fists raised, and that snarling guy, fists raised. Both attacked. Punches landed and heads snapped back from the force of the blows.

“Oh my God!” someone yelled.

“They’re fighting!” cried someone else.

The combatants slugged their way out of my view. The driver jumped from the bus. I couldn’t see how, but he stopped the fight.

All told, the ride from the Arapahoe station to Belleview took about twenty minutes, including the detour and fisticuffs. We made the rest of the journey in stony silence. Most riders, I think, wondered what the hell just happened.

I know I did. Even as the bus pulled away from the Orchard station, I began writing this blog post in my head – as if by properly sequencing what I’d just witnessed, I could understand it; could make sense of a meaningless, violent confrontation between two men who were almost certainly strangers. But there is no understanding it. There is only a trite clich√©: trying times bring out the worst in people.

At the Belleville station, the light rail waited. I hopped off the bus and onto the train, got out my laptop, and began writing this. At Union Station I jumped off the train and caught a connecting bus right away, ordinarily the second leg of my commute home.

Once on board I resumed this blog post. After sketching out the essentials, I made brief notes for a possible ending: “In spite of everything I got home around 3:30, only fifteen or twenty minutes later than usual.”

But alas! That ending proved to be inadequate.

When I got off the bus near home, and approached the bicycle I lock up every single morning, I found it had been vandalized. Not vandalized, really: I think it was an aborted theft. Someone had stolen both brake levers, and would probably have stolen more, but got scared off.

That’s my assumption, anyway. Why else would some fiend remove the rubber handlebar grips, disconnect the front and back brake cables, and remove both brake levers, leaving everything else untouched?

Yet that is what happened. Brakeless, I rode home slowly and with great care, anticipating stops as best I could. On this final leg of my ride home, I used my feet, Fred Flintstone-style, to bring the bike to a halt. Once home I took an extra bike that’s been lying around for a few years, removed its grips and brake levers, and installed them on my bike.

Addendum: Early Friday, two days after the accident, a Denver news outlet finally reported the tanker driver is still hospitalized but “recovering,” and that his family is “grateful they’ll be able to take him home.” This report also hinted at possible safety violations.

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