An Ill-lit Section of Highway  

Posted by Brock Booher

It isn’t everyday that you swerve your car to miss a dead body in the road, but then again none of my days were ordinary as an embassy worker in Lima, Peru.

In July of 1996 I boarded an airplane in Dallas, Texas, bound for Lima, Peru. My Air Force records indicated that I was fluent in Spanish. So when the Air Force needed a pilot, fluent in Spanish, for an assignment in Peru, the computer spit out my name and two weeks later I found myself in the back of an airplane headed south.

Lima is a vibrant colonial city ringed by several shantytown barrios that sprang up during periods of civil and economic unrest. More than a million people live without running water or electricity. At night, those shantytowns, and the sections of the Pan American Highway that run through them, can become dangerous. The ill-lit sections of highway allow for numerous accidents and intentional crimes.

One night I confused my turn and got on to the Pan American Highway headed into one of those shantytowns. Realizing my mistake, and not wanting to fall victim to a crime, I varied my speed, and changed lanes often. As I crested a dark hill my high beams shone on an overpass. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small crowd of people huddled at the side of the road. In the middle of my lane I saw a body.

I jerked the wheel. I slammed on the brakes. The car spun around and I almost lost control. I came to rest along the side of the road facing oncoming traffic. I loosened my death grip on the wheel, and saw the crowd coming my way. I wasn’t sure of their intentions. Sometimes highway bandits would use events like this as a ruse to lure you to stop. Believing the best of these people, I cracked my window to speak with them.

“Did you run over him?” asked an old man in Spanish, apparently the informal leader of the group.

“No,” I replied, “But he looks dead.”

“He was drunk and stumbled into the road. He has been run over several times, but you are the only one that stopped,” commented the old man as the crowd nodded their heads and moaned in agreement.

With the adrenaline still pumping, but not exactly sure how I could help, I rolled down my window the rest of the way and offered to call someone with my cell phone, but no one knew what number to call. I suggested they take some newspaper and light a fire to prevent other motorists from running over him again. Within a few minutes the fire prevented another collision. While I was on the phone with the embassy trying to figure out the best course of action, the flashing lights of a police car topped the dark hill I had crested several minutes earlier. As the police car came into full view, the crowd ran back to the scene to observe the spectacle, except for the old man.

“Get out of here!” he yelled. “They will blame it on you!”

No further prodding was needed. I slammed the car into gear, quickly spun it around, and hurried along the ill-lit highway on my way home, grateful that I had missed the dead body, and any blame for the poor man’s demise.

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 26, 2010 at Sunday, September 26, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Post a Comment