The Best Photo I Never Took

I was driving to Richmond, when the lorry (truck) in front of me suddenly slithered off onto the shoulder of the highway. Ahead of me in the lane, I saw a jeep facing me.

This took a moment to register….

–and then I did what the car immediately in front of me did: slammed on the brakes and slid sideways to avoid a second collision.

It turned out that this was not a collision but a jackknifed flat trailer, towed behind the jeep, which had dumped its hefty load of gardening supplies. Sacks of fertilizer, two trees uprooted from their pots, assorted bits of wood and some broken masonry all lay in front of us. Two men emerged from the jeep, one old enough to be stooped.

The truck driver leaped from his cab and raced toward them. A hurried consultation followed, and then the driver jumped to his cab again and hung from it by one hand. With the other he made a frantic “come hither” gesture to someone down the increasing line of traffic.

Behind me brakes were squealing. I chose not to look, but assumed at some point on this busy interstate, an accordion pile-up would result from this accident. I wasn’t sure yet if someone still inside the jeep were hurt, but a moment later, the siren sounded, and we parted our cars like the red sea. My lane went left while the others piled behind the trucker, as an EMS vehicle plowed up the central lane.


Two burly men in sunglasses and official gear emerged, looking like every movie extra I’d ever seen play men exiting emergency vehicles. They did a brief check of the jeep, and I let out breath I didn’t know I had been holding. It was only the stooped older man and the man who looked like his son. Both were ambulatory. Both were animated, gesturing wildly into mobile phones, glancing now and again at those emergency crew men with radios on their shoulders as if they were demons summoned from a portal.

“No, we’re fine,” I heard one say through my open window.

The car ahead of me began to drive slowly forward. A moment later he had escaped, rear fender disappearing on the horizon. My little red Prius was now the front car in a line of traffic that had to exceed two miles already.

Well, no one was hurt, so I started forward. The trucker flung up his hand and came running toward me. When I stopped, he picked up some sharp black thing from under my front tire, gave a grin, and waggled the object in front of my windscreen.

I grinned back, and made a “should I go forward” signal with two fingers, channeling an airport staffer.

He raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

I let the Prius roll at about two miles per hour, and the larger of the burly EMS guys appeared without warning in front of my car. Proffering what I hoped was a compliant smile, I slammed on my brakes.

The two EMS men spent a few minutes moving things out of the road: a tomato cage stack, several sacks of fertilizer and mulch, broken garden statuary. I pictured women on the other end of those phone calls, the wife of the younger man saying: are you hurt? The fruit trees are broken? THE STATUES TOO??????

Pity flooded me.

But even as I sat in my car, a part of me longed to hop out and photograph what seemed—now that no one was hurt—the missed opportunity of the whole scene. Exiting my car to take a photo would likely annoy the burly guy with the reflective sunglasses and radio, dragging 50 lb. busted sacks of questionable contents off the road. I stayed put.

Behind me, on the center line of the highway, lay the coffee-colored human torso that had diverted my eyes from the real accident and almost caused a second one. Prone, rocking gently in the tail pipe winds, its arms not broken but permanently missing a la antique Greek architecture. Whoever modeled for it had six-pack abs. The torso ruled the accident scene as I tried not to laugh for fear of being The One Going to Hell.

No one was hurt. That’s what made it funny. Still, it seemed tacky to try and get a photo. And those men still had to face their wives about the loss of the cherry trees. Let it be the photo that got away.

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