When the Plate Glass Decapitates You and Trump Is the Only Thing On Your Mind
Her name was Ana Flores.
She was 37 years old. On October 8, 1999, she was walking down Wabash Avenue holding the hand of her three-year old daughter, Viridiana. She was a full-time mother; her husband, Tony, was a baggage handler for United Airlines. It was a Friday afternoon, just after lunch. It was a slightly cloudy day with occasional light showers throughout.
Twenty-nine stories above her, on the west side of CNA Plaza's South Tower, a piece of plate glass casually slipped from its mooring and fell to the ground. The CNA building had had incidents of glass both cracking and falling from the building but, to date, no one had been hurt so the $3.5 million rehab on the windows had consistently been put off. Like a heavy feather, the plate glass gracefully sliced through air for 7.6 seconds before gently decapitating Flores where she stood.
She was killed instantly.
I saw it that afternoon on CLTV. And, like everyone else who saw it on television, I was horrified. I was also deeply curious. What truly made an impact on me that day was not the unfairness of life or the teetering lack of safety we all tightrope walk upon daily, but Ana Flores's last second of life.
“What was she thinking?” was the question that plagued me that afternoon. Most people see their death coming — even if only for a moment. It is that moment that the myth of seeing your life flash before your eyes gets its resonance. Whether it is at the wheel of a car crashing or old age softly pushing out the final breath, we mostly get to see the final instance of life extinguished. But not Ana Flores. Her death was silent and unseen and snuffed her flame out in a microsecond.
What was she thinking about during that 7.6 seconds? If she was anything like most of us — and odds are that she was — she was likely thinking about the flotsam and jetsam of every day living. Bills to pay. A petty squabble with her husband about something stupid. Self-doubt in the form of body insecurity or an inability to motivate herself to achieve something on her list of things to do. If she was anything like most of us — and odds are that she was — she was likely thinking about bullshit. Inconsequential crap.
I think about that to this day. I know, at 52 years old, I’m more apt to simply snuff it eating a bagel or over-exerting myself picking up a box than I used to be. My sense of mortality has always been keenly honed but it is more apparent today than 20 years ago. Plenty of people die before 50 but I didn’t so I’m stuck with my feet inching just a tad bit further over the precipice than I had anticipated.
These most recent days, it’s become difficult to keep my head in the game. The chance that if a plate glass window sliced my head off, most days I’d be thinking about Trump or Kavanaugh or Identity Politics or #MeToo or the coming disaster of our crumbling climate. I might be dwelling heavily upon the truth or not of rape culture, of the lack of medical coverage most people endure, or the perilous edge those of us living freelance tightrope walk across every day.
Maybe how social media has unleashed our worst behavior writ large. Perhaps, when the glass severed my brainstem, my mind would be processing what shit the Electoral College system is and how no one is doing anything about it just like the dead stick that is campaign finance reform or banking regulation.
I might be distracted by the fact that, no matter how vocal people have been about “normalizing” Trump, by jumping on the insult and mockery bandwagon on a routine basis, they have done exactly that. That modern comedy is becoming less funny and more a series of lectures designed to get the audience to applaud and laugh in recognition of how “woke” the comedians are — watch any cold open to SNL and see the lack of originality for confirmation.
You know. Bullshit.
I’d rather be thinking about Life. Love. Ideas to improve rather than soil. Things to build rather than things to destroy. My beautiful wonderful wife and her throaty laugh. My mom. My dad. All the reasons why I’d be unhappy to be cut short rather than a litany of things that would make it feel like a blessing to be done away with.
I get it. How can one avoid thinking about all this flotsam and jetsam when so much hangs in the balance?
Unless you’re actively doing something about the floating debris of the body politic, dwelling on it and the anxiety that accompanies that helps no one, least of all you. Virtue signal all you want, the fact remains that your standing on Faceborg (or Medium or Twitter) is a phantasm that amounts to jackshit in the Grand Scheme. Go register to vote and then show up, for chrissakes. Volunteer for some ocean cleanup. Then go hug your spouse. Play with your kids. Pet your goddamned dog.
I hope — I really do — that the synapses in Ana Flores’s gray matter were firing in the direction of something meaningful rather than worrisome. I hope that when the plate glass comes for you — and it will, my friends — you will be looking at a sunset and marveling at how damned amazing it is to be alive at a time when we are safer and more humane than at any other time in history. Me? I’m working on it.