I drive to work every day, west on the Santa Monica, and I get off at Fifth Street. Friday was an easy commute; the 405 south was clear and even the transition was quick.

Near the end of the freeway, though, traffic slowed down. Ahead, you could see the red-blue stutter-flash of a police car, and there was a van stopped in the center lane. They hadn't even had a chance to cover him with a sheet yet.

{} {} He was facing me as I drove by, his head turned to the slow lane and his left knee pulled up just a little. He was young.

He didn't look dead. I know it's a cliche, but the small pool of blood around his head and the fact that he was lying on the freeway were the only things that gave away the fact that something was wrong.

Dead people, I always thought, would look dead ­ that there would be something intangibly but recognizably different about them. What separates a living person from a dead body? And shouldn't you be able to tell when it leaves?

On TV, people don't look dead because they're not, they're just actors playing dead people. In magazines, people look dead, but that's because they're usually covered in blood or lying bent and broken around a bomb crater. The only real contact I've had with dead people has been at funerals, and they're all made up and stiff. They look dead because it's had time to sink in, both for them and for me.

This guy didn't look dead. What makes the difference? It bothers me that I don't know.