"The Interstate's UNDERWATER!" a voice spat through the phone.
'YEAH it is,' I thought. But fifteen minutes later I was perched on a overpass exit ramp, looking down on a patch of interstate that resembled a concrete waterpark ride. As I cursed the rain and flipped the gain, I saw four rows of parked headlights idling at the water's distant edge. Those motorists no doubt wanted nothing more than to continue their journey West. But as the sparkle of emergency flares lit up the water's surface, the cars stayed put, while the highway behind them turned into a four-lane five-mile parking lot.
Eventually of course, one brave traveler gave it a go. A high sitting narrow pair of headlights entered the watery breach, slowly at first and then faster as the driver's confidence increased. As it passed through my raindrop-spotted viewfinder, I saw it was a Toyota Forerunner plowing past. The SUV kicked up quite a wake as it slowly made it's way through the temporary river. Panning my camera back to the row of headlights, I watched another vehicle inch forward into the drink.
But these headlights were farther apart and sat a good deal lower than the Forerunner. I pulled them into focus and once again wished a spotlight-wielding helicopter would hover overhead and light this mother up. No luck though, I was reduced to reading silhouette edges on the one-inch screen, seeking details through the noisy static of artificial camera light. Luckily, I was dead center over the watery breach and the second pair of headlights slowly filled my screen.
But as the twin beams of light came closer, they took on a weird muted appearance. I realized they were completely submerged. As the vehicle's top-half passed in front of my perch I got a better look at it. An Acura maybe, or a Lexus - one of those low-slung roadsters that look so good on the showroom floor but so lousy underwater.
Low-slung or not, the car inched forward until the dirty floodwater splashed around the bottom edges of the windshield. That's when the engine seemed to sputter and die, and a diminutive figure started crawling out of the driver's side window.
"I'm on the highway! There's water EVERY-WHERE!"
It took me a moment to realize the voice was coming from the shadowy figure emerging from the car. Abandoning my viewfinder, I squinted into the rainy darkness and saw the driver was a small woman, a soccer mom with purse held high and a cell-phone cradled in her ear and shoulder.
"The highway! It's CRA-ZEE!"
The woman continued shouting her litany of exasperation as she crawled off the hood and down into the waist-high water.
"I'm gonna be LATE! Call Max and tell 'em...."
Pushing forward, the woman stomped through the water, leaving her car behind and continuing to shout into her phone, totally oblivious to my camera's gaze just feet above her. She never even looked up when a firemen yelled for her to climb up the embankement. She simply proceeded to slow-motion walk through the water, deeper into swirling impasse and eventually disappearing into the stormy night.
I was on scene for hours after, and never saw the woman again. Her car continued to sit and the water soon covered it completely. After awhile, it began to float and scraped against the divider wall before coming to a undignified rest. I perched just above it from the safety of the exit ramp and recorded funky close-ups of the car's side hazard lights flashing underneath the dirty water's surface.
As for the woman, I'd like to think she walked all the way to her destination - late, soaking wet, and with one hell of a story for Max. Whatever the case, her one-woman flash-flood stampede made for yet another surreal episode, one of those weird photog moments that will bounce around my skull until something even more absurd takes it place.
In my business, that shouldn't take too long.