I’m a funeral escort. That basically means I ride a motorcycle in front of and along funeral processions, helping surrounding traffic see the procession and respond accordingly. I clear traffic in front of them, help them get on the freeway, and generally try to make their trip to the cemetery safer for everyone involved.
Some days, that’s easier said that done. Yesterday was one of those days. I had a 25-car procession westbound on a two-lane street, approaching a big intersection with a five-lane street. This particular intersection is a little odd. While it’s a four-way intersection, the east and west branches are offset from each other by about fifty feet, so you can’t just drive straight through. When westbound, you have to make a left and a quick right.
So here I am, flashing lights turned on, with my black-and-safety-yellow vest on, pulling in to the intersection on a green light. I see to my left that the northbound traffic has filled all three lanes (two through lanes, and a left turn lane), that they have a red light, and should have no problems seeing my big black motorcycle with flashing yellow and red lights. There’s no one southbound yet, so I pay attention that way, since typically people see a green light and don’t look for anything in the intersection.
As I watch the traffic light turn green for north-south traffic, and my procession is almost ready to enter the intersection, one of the northbound cars pulls out from the stop line, looking like he’s just going to fly through. I hit my air horn and jump off the bike, waving him to a stop, and asking him not too quietly, “Where are you going? What are you doing?”
The white male driver in his maybe 30’s looks at me and says, “What? What am I missing?”
This is one of those moments that I really wish I had a video camera running, because I truly wanted to see the expression on my face. There’s a scene in “Terminator” where Ahnold is in his flop house room, trying to repair some part of his mechanism when the landlord knocks on the door. The landlord has noticed the smell of the Terminator’s rotting skin. The view cuts to Ahnold’s point of view as the computer cycles through a list of possible replies to the landlord before choosing “F*** you, a******”.
At that moment in the middle of the intersection, with the procession starting to pass by, and this person asking me what he was missing, I’m certain that if you had been able to see inside my eye, you would have seen the various retorts and responses that I considered as they scrolled through my field of vision.
I couldn’t choose the ones that I really wanted to use, because I don’t have Hollywood scriptwriters working for me. If I had used one of the ones that I really wanted, I likely would have had to just ride to my boss’s house and turn in my uniform and bike, because I probably would have been fired on the spot.
So I looked at my bike, there in the middle of the intersection, with the flashing yellow and red lights. I looked at the lead car of the procession, with the yellow light on top, and orange flags on the roof. I looked at the hearse as it went by. Then I calmly looked back at the gentleman in the car, and politely responded, “Excuse me?”
He asked me again, “What am I missing?”
I gestured to the bike, and said, “Well, there’s a motorcycle with flashing lights there in the intersection. What do you think you should do?”
“I don’t know. What am I missing?”
At that point, the hearse was driving right in front of him, crossing from right to left. I pointed to it, and the limo following, and said, “Sir, there’s a funeral procession passing by. You have to yield.”
“A funeral? Where?”
At this point, the lead car (with yellow beacon) the hearse (with yellow beacon) and the limo with flashing headlights and orange flags have all driven past him, no more than thirty feet away. I just did not understand at that point if he was deliberately being dense, or just pulling my leg, or what. I pointed out the hearse, limo, and the rest of the cars following, and I think I actually saw the light bulb go on. I think I actually saw in this man’s face the moment of realization that he was completely clueless about what was going on around him.
It was at once satisfying and frightening. Satisfying because he had, I hope, realized that he needed to be more aware of what was going on around him. Frightening because I realized yet again after almost four years and over 2200 funeral processions that there are plenty more out there just like him.
Every day is a good day to get paid to ride a motorcycle. Some days are easier to ride than others.