Thursday, December 15, 2011

Standing in Traffic

December 11, 2011

Yesterday, I stood in traffic.  I posed with a bride, a groom, and 3 other bridesmaids on the median line on State Street, one of Chicago’s busiest thoroughfares, half a block from the stoplight.  With the historic Chicago theater as a backdrop, no doubt the photo will look amazing.  But all I could think about as we shivered and smiled was how our lives depended upon the competence of the drivers whizzing past on either side.

Not only crazy people or bridal parties (or is that redundant?) stand on the center line.  That is how my parents died.  They were crossing the street to attend an evening church service at St. Barbara’s in Brookfield, the suburb where I grew up.  They crossed at a spot where many churchgoers do, in a direct line from the church parking lot exit to the church entrance across the street.  Unfortunately, there is no crosswalk there, despite the number of people who walk that way.  I was told the church tried to get the village to add a crosswalk, but it’s only half a block from a stop sign, so the request was denied.

The man who hit my parents lived in Brookfield, and his parents belong to the parish, so he would have known people cross there.  Not only that, but the crossing sits in between a jog in the road that has a stop light and a stop sign, so cars usually travel at a low speed. 

On the night of January 22, 2007, traffic on one side of the street stopped for my parents, who had crossed half-way and paused in the median to wait for the road to clear.  An ambulance driver, who later sped my dad to the hospital, saw my parents and stopped.  A passer-by noticed they were smiling and holding hands.  But the man driving to his home, which was only a mile away, who had stopped for drinks after work, didn’t see them.  He didn’t stop.  My mom died in the street.  My dad died six and a half weeks later.

I didn’t see the crash.  But even nearly five years later, the way that crash happened never leaves my mind as I walk to work each day.  In downtown Chicago, construction is frequent.  Saw horses, yellow tape, and barricades often block all or part of designated crosswalks, requiring me to edge around them, partially exposed to the street.  I look over my shoulder, I scan the cars ahead of me and on the cross street, I check again, I check again.  Finally, I walk, stomach clenching, holding my breath until I make it to the other side.  I get angry with friends who walk with me and insist on crossing against lights, in the middle of streets, or where there is no signal.  Of course, the idea that being in a crosswalk or abiding by the lights will keep me safe is an illusion, one in which we all indulge or we’d never leave our homes.  Traffic laws provide safety only when people opt to follow them, and that only works when the people on the road are competent to make that decision and care enough to make it. 

WGN radio personality Garry Meier was kind enough to speak at the annual benefit for AAIM, the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, as was Illinois Senator Carole Pankau.  Garry likens drunk drivers to terrorists because you never know when they will strike.  At first, despite my parents’ deaths, I thought this metaphor might be extreme.  But then I thought about how I look over my shoulder, and I check, and I check again.  And I never feel safe.  Garry’s right.  It’s not police enforcement that keeps roads safe at least some of the time.  It’s that as a culture we believe that those laws, if followed, will protect us, so we follow them.  If a person opts to violate that most important traffic law – refraining from driving while intoxicated – the others go out the window, along with the safety of any person in or near that driver’s path.

Until as a country we decide that drinking and driving is unacceptable, we are all standing in traffic.

Author's Note:

In honor of my parents, all royalties this year from my short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY KNOWN AS SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR will be donated to AAIM. Horror writer Carrie Green referred to the stories as “horror in pinstripes,” a description I wish I’d thought of myself and which I’m happily adopting.  

For Kindle or any laptop, smartphone or computer with the free Kindle app:

To learn more about AAIM, or make a donation in honor of someone you love, click here:

Lisa M. Lilly is also the author of the Amazon Occult Horror Best Seller The Awakening

Will Tara Spencer’s mysterious pregnancy trigger the first stage of the Apocalypse?  Or bring the world its first female messiah? 
On Amazon:

For the Nook:


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  2. Jamie, thank you for commenting and for your good wishes. It's good to know the post speaks to others as well.

  3. Sorry for your loss, it's indeed a tragedy. This is the worst consequence that can follow a traffic accident. Nobody wants to be neither author, nor victim, but it's even worse to be relatives to the victims. Because they're the ones who suffer more after such tragedies. What's more important is to never get involved in such incidents. Drive safely and take care.

  4. I am immensely sorry for your loss. However, you have titled your link with an untrue analogy. Drunk drivers do not premeditate their wrong doings, therefore they cannot be "like" terrorists, who sometimes we do, in fact, see coming. I never comment on things, but I could not let this pass. I agree with your means and support you, but that statement is ridiculous both from Garry Meier and yourself. Unfortunately, I believe "as a country" we will never decide anything together, however it is well known that drunk driving is against the law, therefore I believe it has been "decided" against. Wishing you and everyone safe travels and lives.

  5. AL, thank you for your thoughtful comment. The analogy is not perfect. I agree, there is clearly a greater intent on the part of terrorists. Yet I can't quite agree that drunk drivers don't premeditate. In today's world, to get behind the wheel while intoxicated and believe you are not endangering your life and the lives of everyone around you takes willful denial or conscious disregard, as these dangers are well known. And while we've passed laws against drunk driving, many people still drive while intoxicated. I've also had people, even ones who know how my parents died, assure me that they are not "really" drunk after 4 martinis or that it is "just an accident" when someone drinks alcohol, drives, and causes a crash. On the upside, awareness is much greater than twenty eyears ago, and many more people opt not to drink if they are driving and vice versa, for which I am grateful.

  6. Sorry for your loss. I can't imagine how hard it is to lose a loved one because of irresponsible driving.