January 10, 2016

Dancing in no man’s land

The last time I’d been on that road I was in a car accident. We were reluctant to go this time, yet had no real reason. A Hungarian goddess was holding a flamenco dance class so we went for it. A rain, sleet, and fog interstice between two capital cities, an hour and a half ride, what the hell.


We never made it. Ten miles before our destination, somewhere between two tunnels, highway traffic stopped dead. Hey buddy, we’re running late, I texted our instructor. As we slowed down, cars parted to the left and right, like the sea, as if gently coaxed by some invisible hand. A rotating light whizzed by in the opposite direction. Then another, and a few more. An ambulance returned our way, followed by several police vehicles, then safety trucks carrying flashing road signs.


The car radio didn’t work because I’d knocked off the aerial a few days earlier swiping snow off the roof of the car. Our phones had no data service. There were a million headlights all around, a crowd of people neatly separated and packed inside little metal boxes with wheels on, hiding to keep the cold outside. We couldn’t see far enough ahead to know anything. Nothing left to do but nosh on breadsticks and tangerines, turn knobs and push buttons in the car, and check phones that wouldn’t work. An interstice of fog and sleet between two capital cities, an hour and a half ride through, apparently, the middle of nowhere.


My instructor called. Some maniac wrong-way driver crashed. You’re probably not gonna make it, but when you get here, at least stop for drinks.

Germans call them Geisterfahrer. Ghost drivers. Flying Dutchmen of the road.


We sat in traffic for two hours, abandoned by technology, stretching legs, cracking jokes inside our little warm box, counting the reasons we were running late in the first place. My friends’ bus, me forgetting the car insurance policy, her stopping for coffee at a gas station. Tiny distractions that held us back like Aphrodite’s apples, like breadcrumbs we needed to leave behind. Then the sea started rolling again, slowly and heavily diverted into a single lane. The newspaper reports would say later: one killed, several injured. Wrong-way driver in a Fiat Punto crashed into a Dodge, four more vehicles crashed trying to avoid the collision. Sorry M, but we think we’re just going to drive back home, I texted. Don’t be, he replied. I’m just glad you guys didn’t head out three minutes earlier.


We’re not the kind that need to be reminded that we are always close to chaos. That all the comfort, safety and trappings of civilized life are a tunnel, a thin metal membrane, and a steering-wheel swerve away. We don’t read too much into coincidences, but we keep them in mind. Viva la vida, we thought as we passed by the crash site. The little Fiat Punto looked like some otherworldly flower in full bloom, doors and metal sheets unfurled as they tried to get to the driver, and the Dodge had a big dent in its front left side. Three more cars were scattered on the road, lights flashing. A soul left this world, and our dance shoes remained packed away.


We turned around, back into the sleet and the rain and the fog. We stopped at a Marché to refresh and get our bearings. There’s something about these places between worlds, between borders. A franchise diner in no man’s land, looking like every other of its kind, with neat containers of fresh fruit and Vienna schnitzels and potato salad and muffins and ever-hot cocoa and coffee. We were the only people there. We had tea and cake and laughed with poppy seeds in our teeth. We spoke of Israel and America and family, and threw a little dance party between the Delilahs and California Blues and My Ways that played for no one but us. I thought of how I hugged my Mom before I left but didn’t hug Dad, because he just handed me the insurance papers through the window. I thought of how I would always be annoyed when my friend takes her time with things, regardless of the outside world. I thought of the “Danger! Slippery” sign in the restroom.

We spent nine hours in a car, getting nowhere, doing nothing. No drama, just life, unforgiving in its awkwardness and oddity. Happens every day. We live in lighthouses, connected with corridors of darkness and frost. We follow the music, and take wrong turns that end up righting someone else’s path. We drop out of connection and end up dancing to the music that was meant for us, not the one we thought we had chosen. It wasn’t my car crash this time, it wasn’t my music, but we danced.