There's a pretty stone bridge on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway just north of the Route 410 exit for Hyattsville and New Carrollton.
I didn't know it was pretty until I was stuck in traffic there Aug. 9 heading to D.C. for a getaway. But I was stuck appreciating what can't usually be appreciated at 65 mph:
A pretty stone bridge.
And a dirty, malnourished poodle atop the bridge.
I looked at him (was he a he?), and looked at him some more until the traffic became unglued and I moved on up the parkway. I was free to get away.
I stopped, pulled over and walked back to the dog. He was still standing guard on the bridge. As I approached, he began barking, then jumped down behind the bridge and started to run. I turned my back and sat on the bridge to see if the dog would settle down. I was in no hurry.
Drivers slowed to ask me what I was doing. Did I need gas? Was my car broken down? Was I lost? What was I doing?
I peeked over my shoulder, and the dog had stretched out on a bed of cardboard trash. Cans and broken bottles formed his larger bed. No collar or tags. His fur was matted and soiled. His eyes looked like hurt slits.
I started a story for him in my head.
Not lost. Thrown out. Been living in the woods for a long time. Worn out from barking. Won't bite. Doesn't have the strength. Will he let me pick him up? Just walk around the bridge and make contact. Just do it.
I came up on him, moving trash out of my path and his. He made himself very small, and I felt too big. I scratched his head. He didn't flinch. I couldn't tell if his eyes worked. His tail was mute.
He wasn't going to hurt me.
I scooped him up in a raincoat and could feel his ribs. I don't know the first thing about poodles but know they should weigh much more. I carried him to the car and lowered him to the floor on the passenger side. He wanted to sleep. I had no idea where to take him. I already have a dog; I don't want two dogs. There's no sense in bonding with or naming this dog.
Over the next three hours, there were four stops: an animal hospital somewhere. A rescue shelter. A Humane Society facility somewhere else. After communication and jurisdictional miscues, the dog I started calling Freeway finally landed in animal intake at the Prince George's County Animal Services Facility in Upper Marlboro, the proper jurisdiction. Freeway was handed to a woman behind the intake counter. She didn't flinch.
"We need to get you groomed and fed," she said. And she said they would do that.
I signed a piece of paper saying I wasn't the owner and the county reserves the right to dispose of the dog.
On Monday I went on their website and saw a picture of Freeway. Maybe someone will adopt him. You can look him up on their website.
I finished a story for him.
A family comes in this weekend to look at the dogs for adoption. So many dogs to choose from. Labs, pit bull mixes. But the girl wants a little dog, so her parents ask to see the little dogs. They bring out Freeway, groomed, well-fed, toenails trimmed, his tail having come to life. He's the perfect little friendly dog for the girl. How could her parents refuse?
After dropping the dog off, I found my way back to D.C. A flea nipped at my ankle on the drive.
I had a late lunch at a nice restaurant. When I walked out of the restaurant, a young woman about the age of my daughter was sitting outside the entrance. Her hair was matted and her expression stayed low to the ground. She had made herself very small and was holding a cardboard sign asking for money, and I didn't give her anything.
I wonder why.