By Ishita Singh
In the distance, a siren wails.
No one pays attention to the caterwaul. It is far away, and it is 9:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in downtown Brooklyn. Everyone has somewhere to be. Between Borough Hall on the left and the Municipal Building on the right, this narrow block of Joralemon Street is perhaps only a few hundred feet long and dead much of the time, but right now it is all busy tedium, bursting with people who crowd the Borough Hall subway station and spill into the street. Bursting with buses-the B41 then the B37 then the B103 then the B52 then the B26 and then the B41 again-an endless line of dirt-coated white behemoths chauffeuring people to work every minute, every hour, every day. Bursting with cars, cabs, Access-A-Ride vans for the handicapped and mail trucks and even a Time Warner Cable van with a ladder attached to the roof.
People do not look as they cross the street. There is no need to. Traffic is so stalled on this little street that there is no danger of being hit by anything other another person running by. The buses squeal, the cab drivers honk, the people yell as they push by one another-the everyday sounds of the morning rush.
But the whine of the ambulance cuts through that white noise. A woman in a short black coat and long black boots quickens her pace. “Damn sirens,” she mutters to herself as she stares down at her coat. A trickle of coffee slides down the front, spilled as the woman hurries to get away from the noise. But the noise is coming towards her, getting louder, coming towards the tiny passage with the glut of people and cars and buses.
A bus driver hears the sirens and sees the small Brooklyn EMS ambulance trying to get through. His face, though just barely visible through the cloudy scratched-up plastic windows of his B103 bus, shows an unmistakable look of surprise. Making room for ambulances on this stretch of Joralemon is not part of his daily routine, and his task seems impossible. Even if he can squeeze out enough space for the ambulance, there are two buses ahead of him, and two mail trucks, four cabs, three small sedans and that Time Warner Cable truck, which has stopped on the corner, ladder and all.
Face scrunched, the bus driver turns his wheel. He turns and turns and turns, until the bus finally moves enough to the right to let the ambulance through. The sirens are so loud that people on the street run with hands over their ears, unaccustomed to this new element of their morning rush. The ambulance driver pounds the side of his car with his arm impatiently, screaming at drivers to let him through. But even if the cars did have room to move, the light is red, and they can go nowhere.
Finally-finally-the light turns green. In a rush of movement, cars move to the left or to the right, the ambulance slides through with its blaring sirens and rushes along on Joralemon. The B103 stops in front of Borough Hall with a squeal. People get off and the bus driver closes the doors. He is stopped at the light again. In this moment of stillness, he strains his neck to look for the ambulance. It has sped away, too far to see. The light turns green and the bus driver moves on. Another bus comes behind it, and then another and then another, and the squealing buses and the honking cabs and the hurried people once again form the white noise of the morning rush in downtown Brooklyn.