Chris pounded his steering wheel in frustration. On either side of him, cars filed quickly by in solid formation.
"God bless it! What's the dang hold-up? This is the middle lane for Chrissakes! You don't stop in the middle lane!"
He took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. The brake lights on the white truck ahead of him ("So nice of you to totally block my view!") flipped off, and it started rolling. Chris let his Honda roll up close behind it, in the eternal but vain hope that somehow the moral force of his too-near presence would speed the truck up.
It hit its brakes again.
"FU... ARGH!" Chris spat as he slammed his own brakes.
He clenched his teeth. The volunteer work down at the shelter had lasted longer than usual (though it always seemed to, so was it really other than usual?) and now Baltimore Ave. was totally clogged. He ran a hand through his hair.
The truck started rolling again, brakelights still lit, but Chris didn't trust it now, and let a space open between his car and the rear of the truck. Then he spotted a right-turn blinker on in the right lane behind him... Glory! They were turning right! With a lurch, he punched the accelerator and swerved into the spot just vacated by the car, which had turned into a parking lot.
Chris refrained from giving the truck driver an angry glare. Which was as well, since the real problem turned out to be an old Buick in front of the truck, loitering in the center lane, left turn signal blinking wistfully as both lanes drove by at thirty miles an hour.
"Jesus," Chris mentally addressed the driver of the Buick, "don't you know how to plan? You can't suddenly decide to turn left in traffic! Idiot." Oh well. At least their idiocy, and the break in the right lane, now meant that Chris could veer back into the center lane and enjoy a clear stretch of asphalt! And maybe even achieve the speed limit!
He passed the Buick, flipped on his turn signal, and... "FUCK! YOU COCKSUCK..." Chris shouted as the Nissan directly in front of him sped left into the opening in the center lane. "Nice fucking turn signal! Asshole! That was my spot!"
And then the Nissan piddled down the street in front of him. Chris tried another deep breath, but it didn't work. He began ranting to himself. "Shit, why the hell did you get over into this lane if you don't want to drive? What is this, a conspiracy? Keep Chris from getting anywhere? Fuck!"
Ahead of them, the light turned yellow. "No way this idiot is going to make it," Chris thought, and put on the brakes. He sighed. "I am going to be so late."
However, the Nissan didn't slow. The light turned red, and then the Nissan drove right through the intersection, never slowing from thirty miles an hour. Chris laughed to himself. "What an idiot! I hope this intersection has a traffic camera and they come and arrest you. At least it would be one less asshole on the streets."
He looked down the street. The next eight or nine lights were all synchronized... if he could get around the idiots, he should be able to get through this little cluster of high-rises in good time. He looked around. To his right was a black van - shouldn't be any trouble to get in front of them. To the left, though, was a BMW. Hopefully, even if that guy punched it and got out in front, they'd drive quickly, and therefore not get in his way.
The real wild cards were the people turning right onto the street ahead of them, screened by the left turn signal. An Olds, a Taurus... looked bad. Maybe, if they spaced themselves out...
And the light turned green.
Chris put the hammer down. Sure enough, the van stayed put, but the BMW kept up with him. That cut off one option. "God damn it, guy," Chris thought at the BMW, "pass or fall behind! Stop staying right next to me!"
Then another Buick pulled out of a driveway, into the path of the BMW, who braked and pulled left, behind Chris. Chris laughed, and merged into the right lane out in front of the now dawdling Buick, and at just the right time to pass the center lane Taurus. He smiled as he passed them on the right, then scanned the road ahead.
"Boy, you pass one, and all you wind up with is a different batch of idiots to deal with." Sure enough, at the just now turning green lights, other cars were slowly accelerating from their stops. The first one was no problem, the lane ahead of Chris being clear, but after that there was a set of three cars, one waiting in each lane. "Thanks for spacing yourself out so well," Chris thought ironically. "Okay, think fast Chris... which one is going to accelerate the quickest?"
It was dead easy - the right lane had a Volvo, the center lane an old Mitsubishi pick-up, and the left lane a little black Acura with a silly-looking aftermarket spoiler. "Always go with the riceboy," Chris thought, and veered across in front of the Olds, which was accelerating from the last stop light. He checked his mirror to move left again. The BMW was coming up fast in that lane, but there was no way Chris was getting behind anyone but that little Acura, so he cut in front of the BMW and began to brake. "Sorry about that, but I have somewhere to be," he thought at the BMW behind him.
Sure enough, the light turned green and the Acura screamed off the line - to Chris' surprise, the Volvo on the right did too, but no matter. He loomed up behind the Acura until he was just past the pick-up, then whipped back into the center lane.
For some reason, the Volvo - still ahead of him - also went for the center lane, in front of him. So Chris kept moving over, into the now-clear right lane. Oh shit, it wasn't clear! Some jackass in a white minivan was parked in it!
Chris signalled left, but as he looked over his shoulder he saw that the BMW had come up behind the Acura and merged into the center, just like he had, and was now in his way. Chris grimaced, hesitated, then hit the brakes before he plowed into the minivan. The BMW-Volvo-Acura cluster blew by, and Chris swerved left and punched it to avoid being caught behind the pick-up.
"Well," he thought, looking at the back of the BMW, "I guess that was fair. And at least he's going fast enough." The Acura in the left lane was actually not as fast as the BMW, and Chris was slowly drawing up next to it when the BMW suddenly moved into the right lane.
The momentary hope for clear street was dashed when who appeared beyond the BMW but... the little Nissan! The red-light runner! Dawdling again! Chris frowned. Acura left, BMW right, Nissan from Hell in front. He was boxed in. God, it never ended.
Then the BMW braked, hard. Chris looked over, didn't see anything in that lane - and took the opportunity. "Must have missed a turn," he thought, veering into the right lane. He sneered at the Nissan as he passed it. "Assholes. I do so hope you get a tick-"
The car jolted violently. "Shit, what was that?" Chris thought. He checked all the mirrors, but everything seemed okay. "Damn, I hope that didn't hurt the undercarriage. That was a hell of a pothole." He looked in the rearview. "Guess that's why the BMW stopped." He looked ahead.
The road was empty.
Chris blinked. The road was empty. Not a car in sight.
He looked at the speedometer. Forty-five. Forty-five in a forty zone. He looked back up. The road was still empty.
He had done it. Somehow, he had gotten ahead of them. Gotten ahead of everybody. He blinked. His eyes blurred for a minute.
For the hell of it, he slid the car back into the middle lane. He was leaving the city, now, and trees began to whip by the side of the car. A speed limit 55 sign did, too, and he accelerated to 60 with a whoop. Still no other cars.
He had gotten ahead of them all.
"Jesus, Phil, what the hell happened?"
Phil slid a hand under his cap and scratched his head. He gestured upwards with his head. "Cart fell out of that building. Ten stories, loaded with computer monitors. They got here at just the same time this poor bastard did."
Jessica whistled. The car was totalled - embedded in the wall, it looked like a ball of tinfoil dropped into a blender. Broken glass and plastic littered the street for a hundred feet back to the point of impact.
"Good thing he swerved right instead of out into traffic."
"Luck. The guy never even knew what hit him. Car happened to drift right."
She shook her head slowly. "Ambulance on the way?"
"Be here in five. For all the good it will do - the guy's in like eight separate pieces. Hey, you want to do something, go talk to that guy over there. Leaning on the black BMW. He saw the whole thing - get his report."
"You got it, sarge."
He was speeding, now, doing maybe eighty. Somehow he didn't feel the need to check. He had rolled the window down, and the wind felt like freedom in his hair. Ahead of him the road stretched out for miles, not a car in sight, and it was growing brighter and brighter...
Columns by Sun Ra