For the next half-hour or so my life would take a turn, though not the turn I had expected. I was waiting in traffic at the intersection of Veterans Boulevard and Carrolton Street in Metairie for the left-turn signal. This is a turn I make practically every day, but it was not going to be so easy this day. The turn arrow came on but the car in front of me did not move. I gave it a few seconds and then honked. By this time the drivers behind me had gotten impatient and there was a chorus of honkers. I looked around to see in someone had left the vehicle but saw no one. Then the light changed its cycle back to red. I realized that once the arrow came back, I might have to work myself around the car.
When the arrow returned, there was still no movement in front of me so I cautiously made my maneuver. Meanwhile the line of vehicles behind me grew and the honking intensified. As I worked my SUV (appropriately an “Escape”) to the right of the stopped car, I extended my neck to look inside. Fighting the glare of the sun on the window and the impatience of the traffic I saw a person at the wheel slumped with his head tilted back. He wasn’t going anywhere.
My strategy was to make the left turn; park; walk to the neutral ground; glance inside then call 911. With each turn of the lights the line grew longer and the horn blowing intensified. I reasoned that I could best serve humanity at this point by waving the cars around the lifeless automobile while waiting for the emergency help to arrive. That wait was not long. Several vehicles down the line was a Jefferson Parish police unit, but he too was snarled in the traffic jam. I frantically kept waving the traffic into another lane. The policeman had the advantage of a siren and a loudspeaker telling people to go around. Slowly he made his way to the stalled car. His unit’s blinking lights prevented another traffic buildup in the turning lane. At this point I did not know what my role, if any, should be so I decided to wait a few minutes in case he needed help. Truth is, I am not sure if he even noticed me as he approached, perhaps nervously, the driver’s side door. He knocked, no answer. He did the same on the opposite side, no response. By this time, a second police unit arrived. I was glad knowing that the first responder now had back up and, most of all, did not need me. As I walked back to my car, three girls, probably in their early 30s, approached. They were excited. I could not tell if that was because they knew the person inside or just because they were experiencing the moment. Meanwhile, the two cops were having success getting some sort of arousal. As the driver’s side door opened the girls stared to scream and run away from the troubled vehicle. I don’t think it was horror they were feeling, but, as the driver inside ascended, more like the feeling of seeing a ghost. He was a tall, lean, wobbly character who clearly had been under the influence of something he shouldn’t have.
As I started to drive away, I noticed that the driver had been handcuffed (thereby, ruling out a heart attack as the cause) and escorted to a police unit. He would be taken away but the stalled vehicle would remain further delaying traffic until a tow truck arrived.
This would be the second somewhat similar incident I had witnessed in the past month. The other was a man who had passed out on the sidewalk at Tulane Avenue at South Roman. I made the 911 call. In both incidents the emergency authorities, for Orleans Parish and Jefferson respectively, responded quickly and efficiently. There would be another angle to the Orleans incident when an officer removed the tattered blanked that covered a nearby old cart and discovered a woman cramped inside but totally within her senses as she complained that the commotion had awakened her.
Both incidents made me think of lost lives; troubled people most likely with nowhere to go; no one to take responsibility.
In the case of the Jefferson Parish incident, here was a man who was so blacked out that he became unconscious at a stop light. What if he had been driving instead, perhaps on the interstate? He damn well could have killed someone that day while not even knowing he had fallen asleep.
Within an hour, the vehicle had been taken away and the Veterans Boulevard traffic had returned to normal. For the two Jefferson cops it was just another day’s work, just as for the Orleans Parish ambulance workers lifting troubled bodies from sidewalks.
Life continues; so, too, do 911 calls.
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