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December 3, 2003

A Day of Extremes

Every year around this time I get hit by a cold that knocks me flat. Sometimes it waits until five minutes after my last class or committee meeting; other times I'm down for the count for the last week of the semester, usually messing me up for the department Christmas party and the first part of whatever vacation trip we take.

My 2003 cold began with aches and a throat tickle on Monday and I dragged myself through ten hours of teaching on Monday and Tuesday with no one noticing. But this morning, I was a mess: overslept, achey, slow moving, and coughing up vile stuff from deep in my lungs. I drove Alex to school (while listening to a public radio show about the increase in drunk driving arrests over the last few years), came home and went straight to bed. Stayed there all day until 5 when it was time to go back to watch Alex performing as a priest in a short play about the inquisition of Galileo.

The play was held outdoors at HighTechHigh, a questionable choice of venue because the temperature was somewhere in the 50s and the school is located directly under the flight path for planes leaving Lindbergh Field. Each of the six short plays was interrupted every two or three minutes by the roar of jets heading away from Paradise. Even when sky was clear, you could only hear half of the lines because, amazingly enough for a HighTECHHigh, there was no sound system.

I would have been cold anyway, having become a complete weatherwimp just like native San Diegans, but the chest congestion and aches made it hell on ice. Finally, after two hours of this, Alex took the stage. He was terrific! He projected his voice pretty well, and, more than just reciting his lines, he got up there and acted! He argued against Galileo's heretical support of the Copernican view of the solar system and Galileo pushed right back. It was all the more gratifying since this was the quiet boy who always stayed in the back of the crowd and never wanted to be in the spotlight. My paternal pride warmed me up and I forgot my aches.

We stopped at Jack-in-the-Box on the way home. I was looking forward to hopping back into bed as we drove past SDSU when suddenly there was the sound of screeching brakes and...


A car had rammed us from behind. June screamed. Metal and glass crunched. My head hit the padding over the visor. Alex hit the back of my seat.

And then more tires squealing as the car behind us backed up, jumped up on the sidewalk, drove past us on the right with the sound of more crunching metal as he passed by me on the passenger side. When he got back off the sidewalk he seemed to pause and we all started calling out the license plate so that collectively we could remember it. A half second later, having chosen not to stop, he raced onto the entrance ramp for I-8 and headed east.

We surveyed each other to see who was hurt, and other than a bent finger for June, we all seemed OK. I called 911 and by the time I got through we had forgotten the first three digits of the out of state plates.

Meanwhile, evening classes were letting out of SDSU and the traffic kept rushing up behind us menacingly, with no one expecting us to be parked in the rightmost lane. Alex and I got out to see the damage and there seemed to be very little of it. Paint flaking off, a whole lot of red paint or pulverized plastic on the back from the other car. College Avenue was littered with pieces of metal, plastic and parts of headlights. Pieces of debris were being further crunched and sent hopping like dangerous popcorn as the traffic speeded past. Back 50 feet from where we stopped, we saw the whole front bumper of the other car lying on the sidewalk, having fallen off when he backed up.

Police came. They figured the other guy would be easy to spot racing down the freeway with no front bumper or headlights. They commended June for resisting the urge to slam on the brakes when we were hit. Had she done that, the impact would have been much worse and this would be a very sad story. As it is, just as when we watched the wildfires licking the hills behind our house, I realize again that nothing really matters but the people around you. We're OK. We're lucky.

And now that the distraction is over, I feel this damn cold again.