Traveling Witness

Why author Jesse Sensibar records death on the highway

Jesse Sensibar finds his peace while driving down interstates in complete silence.

He calls it "windshield time."

"I do a lot of good thinking while I'm driving," Sensibar says. "I enjoy seeing the country and meeting people, I look for strange, odd things out in the road."

Sensibar says he has a lot to ponder, as he is a man of many faces: one-time tow truck driver, a professor, an author.

Sensibar found his love for the road when he was driving a tow truck. Most of the time he ended up picking up totaled cars. This was when he found a passion for roadside shrines: piles of flowers, crosses, candles and photographs.

"You end up just taking custody of places where people die," said Sensibar. "That comes with a certain amount of emotional and physical weight."

Sensibar said he often times found himself getting so involved with the families that he would know names, faces and stories by the time the families would put up shrines. He found himself wishing someone would document these shrines.

He decided he might as well do it himself. If he sees a shrine while he is driving, he will stop on the side of the road and photograph it with his iPhone, then write a few lines about the shrine.

"I found myself on the side of the road documenting what I saw and what I felt," Sensibar says.

These moments of documentation inspired his first book, Blood in the Asphalt: Prayer from the Highway, which includes photos of the shrines he documented throughout his journeys on the road, as well as writing—poetry, fiction, and essays. One piece in particular hits close to home.

"I lost a son on the highway," said Sensibar. "He got run over by a semi-truck. There's an essay in there about that. I have a real personal connection to loss out on the highway. It's how I made my living my whole life, from other people's losses on the highway."

Read an excerpt from his book here.