I was standing in the middle of the highway, waving my arms at oncoming traffic, thinking “What the fuck am I doing?”
That’s the middle of the story though, but I thought you may stop reading if I started the story where it begins.
On my normal drive to work is sometimes interfered with by police cars and other emergency vehicles, car crashes and just the awful delay of a lot of working people driving in and out of the city en masse. This morning it was a different story.
I just get onto the highway in the left of three lanes and am coming up on a bridge when I see a small bunch of cars and a box truck go all over the place… not as in they’re flying off the road, but they’re distinctly dodging something. I’m doing about 55 or so, and I’m looking at the surrounding environment, and trying to figure out if I get on the bridge whether I’ve just lost any escape route if vehicles start piling up.
They clear up, for the most part, but they’re distinctly dodging something in the road, and a red minivan is stopped completely. I see something in the road, looks like an animal. I look back over at the red van, I’m about 50 feet away and slowing, and I see a man get out of the passenger side and I’m inspecting the scene. I see little shapes moving about under the rear of the van, and realize the lump in the road was a mother duck. The little shapes were ducklings.
I drive about 50 feet past the point where the van is stopped. Cars are going to have to get around it and I don’t want to create and even narrower passage than needed. It’s a little past rush hour and the traffic wasn’t heavy, but what that means is the fewer cars are moving faster.
I can smell the burnt tire in the air as I walked across the left lane to the center, my vision sharper but my mind somehow blurrier, only simple decisions were being made. The Hispanic guy had a black bucket in has hands and was at the back of the van trying to corral the ducklings into it. His back was turned to traffic as he did this and I knew my job was to stand 20 feet or so towards oncoming traffic and try to get people to drive around.
It was a nice day out and I was in shorts and a short sleeve shirt. My pasty white appendages would come in handy, my arms making wide flapping motions. I kept looking over my shoulder at the progress, back at the oncoming traffic. Vehicles were slowing down and driving around, but they still came at a clip that would not allow me to get to work if something went wrong.
“Rapido! Rapido!” The guy called out to the woman behind the wheel of the red van. At the same time he slapped the back of the van and she cautiously nudged the vehicle forward a foot at a time.
I was standing in the middle of the highway, waving my arms at oncoming traffic, thinking “What the fuck am I doing?” The sound of traffic and the eep eep eeps of the ducklings making their way into the slight fog of adrenaline cooked mind and the heavy beating of my heart.
It seemed he’d scooped up about half of the little birds when I next looked over my shoulder, their habit of keeping in a pack formation seemed to help. Then one chick broke away from the half-dozen left running in circles trying to escape the large animal scooping them up. I saw the guy look at the stray and back at the chicks, he couldn’t go after the one and risk not getting the rest. I turned around and darted after the stray before he made it into the far right lane where the cars were diverting around the event. I caught the little guy with unexpected ease, a car zipping past at a distance that certainly seemed a lot closer than I’m comfortable with.
The Hispanic guy held out the black bucket and I lowered the chick in and dropped him on his brothers and sisters. I hear the sound of sirens starting up.
A trooper driving toward us, hitting the siren, “Move your cars!” he repeated over his PA.
“What do we do now?” the other guy said to me.
“I’ll take them,” and he handed me his black bucket filled with eeeping chicks. He ran back to the passenger side door and jumped in.
“Move your cars!” again. I nodded an exaggerated nod and waved with a free hand to the trooper and looked for an opening in the left lane to walk back to my car.
I made it across and was halfway there when “My wife does rescue!” I barely hear… it was repeated and it clicked in. I looked over and on the far bank of the road a man was leaning out of his truck.
The trooper had pulled over near him and repeated his phrase “Move your vehicle!”. I waved to the guy, he pointed ahead and I did the same in acknowledgement that I’d drive over there and make a hand off.
I put the duck bucket in the passenger seat and craned my neck to look out at the highway behind me. There was an opening across all the lanes and I saw the trooper had driven off so I made the dash and pulled up in front of the SUV.
A thin guy, blue overalls with his name “Jim” sewn on a patch over his left chest waked up to me. he had a small grey goatee and he said “My wife does rescue work” he said. I handed him the bucket, said thank you and gave him a pat on the shoulder.
I jogged back to my car and took off for work. My heart was still beating heavy, and after about a minute or two I started to get a little choked up. I suppose if I were a good story teller, I’d have some wort of a take home lesson for you… I don’t. Part of me wishes I could buy a new bucket for the Hispanic guy, and another part would like to know where the duckings are going. Neither will probably come to pass. I don’t want a pat on the back, and I can’t say that I recommend anyone else run out into traffic on a busy highway for the sake of a few birds. I just did what I did and I feel that trying to turn it into a life lesson or parable would be a lie. There was no religion or philosopher who’s lessons I learned that prompted me to do it, it’s just what my damn guts made me do.