Rachel S. Heslin
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Today, Shawn and I were reminded that not all chaos and destruction is due to war.

Driving down the mountain tonight on the way to visit my parents, we came across a car that had flipped over. The front was crushed, and for a moment, we both thought that the passenger was entangled -- until we realized that the car was, in fact, upside down, and that the person inside was the driver.

A few cars had already stopped by the time we got there, so after making sure that someone had called 911, blankets had been distributed, and a couple of people were talking to the trapped driver, we set about coordinating traffic control.

I borrowed Shawn's flashlight (it's bigger than mine) and was about to head up the road when I realized I was dressed in black and navy -- not the best choices for nighttime on a mountain road. I dug through the trunk and came up with my old UCLA nightshirt, which I threw on inside-out over my sweatshirt, then started back up the road.

The stars are crystalline at that height: bright, clear, almost unblinking. It was warmer than it had been the week before, when we'd had snow, but it was still chill. After a while, my hands started to hurt, but it could have been worse.

I'd hear the cars approach before I'd see the glow of their headlights, and I'd start waving the light at them, then on me, since the white rectangle of the long T-shirt was more visible than the flashlight bulb itself. They'd slow down, and Shawn and another man would hold them until it was clear to wave them through. Some other people were doing the same coming up the hill.

The emergency vehicles started to arrive from both sides. I was surprised that, even with all the echo from the surrounding hills, I could still tell where they were coming from. Their lights were incredibly bright, illuminating the trees with flickering colors.

For a while, as the professionals were sorting things out, they stopped all through traffic, and the cars started stacking up. I moved further up the road around yet another curve, trying to give as much advance warning to oncoming cars as possible. Even then, there were a couple that I didn't think would stop in time, but they did. Shawn later told me that he had a problem where, when they'd let people go through, they'd try to gun it, and he had to stop them again and tell them to take it slowly. Idiots.

Finally, the line of tail-lights started to move, receding from my sentry station. I walked back, keeping the flashlight pointed behind me to alert oncoming traffic. I'd come much farther than I'd thought, but I made it back to find that everyone except the emergency crews, the dead car, and Shawn had left. They'd asked him to move our car twice: once to get off of the skid marks, and again to get out of the way of traffic. He said he'd be happy to leave as soon as he found his wife, so they had him park behind one of the fire engines until I got there.

One of the fire guys who had taken over traffic control thanked me when I arrived, and I ran to my hubby, who hugged me and carried me to the car. By then, the passenger, who had suffered only minor injuries, had been put in the police van, and the driver of the crunched car had been extricated and was bundled into a covered stretcher. We hoped that he'd be okay, and we drove away.

It felt good to be able to help.

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