The Road of KingsM. Stanley Bubien
"Dad," my son, Jason, repeated. "Dad! Mom says you're gonna be late."
"Hmm," I mumbled, nose still buried in the Sports Section. "Shouldn't you be on your way to school, Jay?"
"You're supposed to take me!"
"What?" I replied, glancing above the newspaper.
"Remember? Mom's got a doctor's appointment."
Of course I didn't remember! "Honey!" I crumpled the paper. "Can't you take Jay? I... I have an important meeting!"
My wife's face appeared around the corner. "Should've thought of that yesterday! We agreed. You're taking Jason."
After she was gone, I swore.
"Dad!" Jason cried.
"Sorry. You ready? Let's go!"
Once we were settled in the car and speeding down the street, my son blurted, "Know what I learned in school yesterday?"
I shook my head, trying to focus on the road. I'd decided to hang right instead of getting into the quarter-mile long line for our usual left turn. I passed car after car, and just before the intersection, I darted in front of a slowly-accelerating truck and made the turn. In my rearview, another driver did the same.
"I learned about California's oldest road! El Camino Real!" That explained his excitement---this was the street we just merged onto.
"It means 'The Road of Kings.'"
"Pretty ironic," I replied. "The way people drive, I doubt there's many kings here. Everyone's just in it for themselves."
Traffic slowed, for this stretch of El Camino Real led through a gauntlet of stoplights otherwise known as Encinitas. Coming to a halt, I noticed the walk-sign changing. I swore.
On the nearest corner, an elderly lady was stepping off the curb. Misjudging the distance, she teetered forward and collapsed, dropping her single grocery bag.
My hands gripped the wheel with her impact.
"Whoa!" Jason exclaimed, opening his door.
"But Dad, she needs help."
"Yeah," I sighed, "okay," and pulled out of traffic. "You stay here," I told Jason with a commanding finger before jumping from the car.
"Ma'am? Are you all right?"
She gazed about, disconcerted, but replied, "Oh! Thank you, young man!"
I helped her up and began collecting scattered groceries. "That was quite a fall."
She rolled her eyes. "More embarrassing than anything."
"You could have been badly hurt, you know."
Her lips went briefly taut. She met my gaze and nodded.
As we stood there, the light changed. The autos began a mass acceleration toward destinations unknown, their engines roaring about us. I blinked at the river of automobiles---speeding away like I should've been.
Clenching my teeth, I closed my eyes and said, "Need a lift home?"
"Oh no," she replied, voice straining over the din. "I couldn't."
"It's no bother," I forced a smile.
"Well, I'm not too far."
"Please." I extended my arm cordially.
Taking it, she stated, "You're such a prince to help me like this. I do appreciate you taking the time."
"No problem," I replied, escorting her into the back seat.
As I slid in myself, Jason was already making conversation. "You know El Camino Real is the oldest road in California?"
Copyright ©1998 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.
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