I rolled onto Highway 101 last night thinking this is the first time in ages I have left for church choir in the dark. Just then I came around a bend and saw a long line of red taillights. Blue and red police lights flashed way up ahead. Uh-oh.
I came to a stop behind a pickup truck. We inched ahead a half mile or so, then stopped again. Time passed. We turned off our engines and our headlights. I called the church and said I might not be there on time. Meanwhile, it seemed so peaceful sitting on the two-lane highway under a nearly full moon. It was so quiet. I felt a sense of community as we all turned from moving vehicles to human beings stuck on the road together.
After 15 minutes or so, my phone rang. A fellow singer had gotten caught in the backup somewhere behind me. He had heard on his police radio that a fatal accident up ahead would force closure of the highway for at least an hour. They had already closed the Yaquina Bridge. He was turning around and heading home. I said I’d stick it out awhile. It really was comfortable not having to do anything. I called my husband in his nursing home, and we had a nice talk. For once I wasn’t rushing around.
After awhile, I called my co-director to tell her I might not make it to the church at all. I listened to country music, opened the window and breathed the warm windy air and watched the world around me. No point in worrying about my altered schedule. What was happening to me was a minor inconvenience compared to the tragedy up the road where someone had died and someone had lost somebody they loved.
After an hour and a half, as three more police cars zoomed toward the scene, I did the math and realized it was no longer worth trying to get to Newport. I pulled out of line and turned around, driving slowly past a long queue of headlights. The cars thinned out near my turnoff, but I found an emergency vehicle and a guy directing traffic right at that intersection. I opened my window. “Can I go?” “You can go, ma’am,” he said.
In a few minutes, I was home, undressed and enjoying the warmth of my newly rejuvenated spa. Ahhh.
I enjoyed my evening off, but I have grown increasingly frustrated as I have tried to find out exactly what happened. The TV stations all broadcast news of Portland and didn’t say a word about anything here last night. All the local news on the Internet was old. The radio stations had given over the airways to pretaped shows. One country station let an announcer break in to tell us the road was closed. Nothing more. Even today, I can’t find any more than that online.
Two people in my yoga class were trapped on the north end of the bridge. They said the road was closed for 2 1/2 hours. They were pretty sure more than one person had died. They walked toward the scene and saw bodies on the road. All I can do now is wait for the local paper to come out tomorrow and hope somebody had the initiative to cover the crash.
Meanwhile, it was a good taste of what might happen if an emergency makes it impossible to cross the bridge into Newport. Highway 101 is the only through road. Those of us in South Beach and Seal Rock, located between the Yaquina and Alsea Bay Bridges, would be isolated without stores, without gas, without a way to get to jobs, schools or medical care. We would be forced to work together to survive, and we might have to revert to the ways of old, turning the beach into a highway, taking ferries across the bays or finding muddy logging roads through the trees to civilization farther inland.
As I sit here in the middle of a windstorm that threatens to take down trees, knock out the electricity and carry small dogs and children away, I can’t help but think about how little it would take to completely change our lives.