The early version of rush hour traffic is starting. There has always been a certain volume of people who think they can avoid traffic by leaving work early and it has always produced another, smaller but also awful traffic scenario. Because these folks think they are avoiding the real traffic, they haven't accepted the fact that there will still be other drivers on the roads. And these spoiled expectations make the road rage even worse, way worse than actual rush hour. So it's an extra dangerous time to be skating in the streets. I get on the freeway to try to save some time.
The red taillights burn across the lenses of my goggles and over my head as I glide between rows of cars. The air is thick with burning oil fumes. I pull the filter down from my goggles onto my nose and mouth. I hate it when I can't get my last delivery in before rush hour. I spot the light for my exit blinking in the distance. The cars are creaking along. I push forward a few more strides before coasting behind a van and over to the side of the freeway.
A billboard glows. My radio channel clicks over to the advertisement recording, "You deserve a purified life." A white woman in a white shirt stretches her bare white legs over a white bed, holding a glass of crystal clear water. Am I supposed to believe this is her calm voice talking to me? "Light Environments feature the d4.0 air purification system and balanced water systems to keep your life clean and safe. See what kind of life you could be living in our..." I switch over to the album I was listing to this morning as I zoom past the sign. The electronic bass pounds harder and harder. It feels like a wide broom pushing away the memory of the advertisement from my mind. I speed down the ramp, curving onto the street. I whip around the corner. The electronic melody floats over the drums and I glide past the LED signs in each window.
The streets below the freeway are still packed with cars. I hop onto the sidewalk for a few blocks. There is too much trash and too many trash cans to safely maneuver around the pedestrians so I fall back between the cars in the street.
I cut close to the curb on the turn, grabbing the crosswalk pole to whip around. A silver car zooms up behind me and honks loud and hard. I stride forward, and squeeze between the two cars in front of me. One has their window open and I see a small white dog inside, staring at me. Its huge black eyes seem to stop time as I pass by, pleading to me. I cut in front of the next car to come back around. Moving against traffic even if just for a moment is always a bit of a scare. I come back behind the car with the dog, and take a good look at the roof of the car. I can see a pale pink wavering on top. A loud honk repeats itself behind me. The silver car from before is back there, apparently still upset about my existence. Traffic is moving so slow. I coast behind the dog's car, trying to not run into it. The pink wavering is starting to take shape. I can feel the honking car behind me, inching up to my legs. I can feel the hot air blowing out from under it.
If it gets any closer, I will fall on it.
HAAAAAANNNNGG HAAAANNNGGG!!! It calls. The driver in the right lane is looking around, worried they are doing something wrong. We make eye contact. I shrug at them.
A voice calls out behind me.
"THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING IN THE ROAD?"
I guess this is my invitation.
I sit down on the hood on the car and unzip my backpack.
"GET THE FUCK OFF MY CAR YOU CRAZY BITCH!"
I shove my hand down to the bottom of the pocket, reaching around.
Traffic has come to a complete standstill.
I feel the rough top of an acorn and snatch it out of my bag. I step off the car and lean forward to rest the acorn on the top of the car in front of me. I really lucked out when I found someone who was willing to mail it to me. There aren’t a lot of oak trees in LA. And where there are some, their acorns get cleaned away.
The voice behind me continues to yell. I take a breath.
The spirit stuck in the car glides back to the back of the roof and disappears into the acorn. I snatch it off and stick it in my pocket. I hear the dog bark once from inside the car.
I slip around the left side of the lane and zoom up to the next light and turn left onto the sidewalk. I pull the acorn out of my pocket and see a large, puffy pink spirit floating off the top of the acorn.
["Thank you,"] the spirit says.
["Of course. Would you like me to take you somewhere?"] I ask.
["I'm not sure. That car did a number on me. I just need to rest for a while."]
I nod and look around. I'm standing near a bar, across the street from a corner store. I skate as slowly as I can out of the street and onto the sidewalk. The spirit feels very weak on the little tree nut.
I open the door of the bar. It is dark inside, and I'm glad to be wearing night vision goggles. I can feel the sun behind me casting a long shadow down into the empty space in the middle of the room. A long bar stretches its length on the right. The left wall is lined with booths. A couple groups of people fill the booths. The bar seats are all vacant save for one person at the end of the bar, drinking a beer and watching the television. The bartender stares at me. I smile and slide my headphones off to my shoulders. I sit down at the stool right in front of me and place the acorn on the top of the bar. The swollen spirit melts across the bar. It must be so exhausted after being hauled around all day in that car. I wonder how long it has been attached to it. The bartender stares at me.
"Um yes! Hello! Could I have a... ah... mineral water and a... shot of schnapps, please?"
"Peppermint schnapps?" they ask.
"Yes, please," I reply with my friendliest smile. I take off my gloves and they snap together by their magnets.
The television is playing an advertisement for a pharmaceutical product. A family is having the time of their lives playing with a dog in slow motion. The dog has a long, shiny coat that ripples as it leaps into the air. I hope the dog in that car is feeling better now that this exhausted spirit isn't hovering over. It seems to be oozing further and further down the bar.
["Pull yourself together, friend. You're about to get a treat,"] I whisper to the spirit. It slurps itself up into a pile around the acorn. Its eyespots roll around until they lock together. The bar tender sets down a green bottle and a short glass on the bar, pouring the syrupy schnapps out of a square, antique-looking bottle.
"Twelve," they say, and hold their hand for my card.
I reach around to my backpack and pull out my Credit ID, and hand it to him, smiling. They look at me and look at the pass.
"Is this a real CID?" they ask.
Was I smiling too much?
"Of course it's a real CID!" I cough. "It's my CID!"
The spirit has already inched over to the shot of schnapps and is sucking it up, its body shrinking down with every slurp.
They continue to stare at me as they slowly step back to the validation machine and swipe the card. The moment that we wait for the beep feels like an eternity. The high-pitched squeal of the spirit slurping at the schnapps seems to stretch out, flattening flatter and flatter over time. I can feel my sweaty arm pits soaking my backpack straps. If it doesn't work, will they call the police? I swallow. My throat closes and opens with a thud.