The brakes of wrath

Published 8:50 pm Monday, July 11, 2011

I was lying in bed on a rare relaxing Saturday, engrossed in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” when I heard the terrifying skitter of wheels that is usually immediately followed by a car crash.

Upon hearing said crash, I leaned out of the window to my Norfolk apartment, but couldn’t see anything. So I grabbed my keys and cellphone and headed down to the street, where I found a motorcycle driver and passenger crawling out from under their massive bike, which apparently had been the cause of a massive dent in the driver’s door of a massive, tan SUV.

The SUV’s driver was standing by his door on his phone, looking far more concerned about the fact he was probably about to get a ticket for failing to yield the right-of-way than he was about the people crawling on the ground.


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By the time I got downstairs, the police were already there. They’re never very far away in Oceanview. Nevertheless, one of my neighbors was standing barefoot in the street directing traffic, holding up the line of cars going straight whenever someone wanted to turn off the side street where the doomed SUV had come from.

The ambulance rolled up, packed in the two motorcyclists and rolled away. Police officers gingerly picked up the biggest pieces of debris, tossed the rider’s sunglasses to the sidewalk and directed the SUV’s driver to move it to the side of the road, where he waited.

After being nosy for a few minutes and determining there was no way I could help, I headed back upstairs and once again lost myself in Steinbeck’s signature novel, the masterfully-told story of how machines came along and complicated what used to be a simply-led life.

From the perspective of the Joad family, the developing machines of agriculture, the bank machines that foreclosed on the sharecroppers’ farms during a drought and even the machines of government and conglomerate farming all colluded to pull them down and keep them and their fellow migrants from succeeding.

From my perspective standing on the side of the road on Saturday, it seems human beings have been dealing with the complications of transportation ever since the first person rode a horse, paddled a boat or invented the wheel. It was probably far less complicated — but, yes, inefficient — when everybody just walked everywhere.

Though Suffolk is going through a major drought right now, today’s farmers — unlike the Joad family — have all types of technology at their disposal, and the government now at least claims to help them. We all owe them our thanks for working hard against the unpredictability of the weather to provide us with our food and clothing.