I left work at 4:25pm yesterday, eager to get home for a relaxing evening. On the way I was to stop and purchase a couple of small 40 watt light bulbs for a lamp in Susan’s classroom, and I planned to gift myself with a sumptuous dinner package of Ezell’s fried chicken.
The gift to me was to celebrate a copy of my novel selling during the day. Two of my other books sell with frequency I take it for granted, but Mourning Ride is special, and when a copy sells every other week or so I always get a spike of good cheer.
The commute is normally a small drag, but it soon became obvious this would be a bad one. My second traffic jam of the day! In the morning I’d allowed extra time on top of the time needed to get to work very early to let in a heating repairman, who (natch) showed up just at the usual opening time, and even at that the commute was dire and I was barely on time, though that turned out to be moot.
On the other hand, the day had been pretty good, with the usual mix of small administrative fires doused, maybe one or two started, and progress on several other projects varying in scope from ensuring adequate toilet paper supplies to finalizing negotiations for the company holiday party to working on promotions for 2013 to nailing down the reservations list for a seminar, and many others. The usual, in other words, but interesting and for the most part fun, so I tried to stave off pangs of irritation as I sat in traffic. At least Game 1 of the World Series was on the radio. I’m not all that interested, but it made for good white noise to pass the time.
After 45 minutes I’d traveled a mile, and realized this was going to be a long slog. At that point on my route you are committed. With no other viable routes, all you can do is sit back and let time pass.
Eventually the red and blue twinkle of flashing emergency lights in the far distance told me there was a reason for the snarl. In a fit of generosity, I allowed a Metro bus to cut into my lane from the right, further delaying me but possibly earning me a karma point or two.
Near the driveway for the parking lot shared by Walgren’s and Ezell’s, the players in this drama emerged. A Metro bus sat idling in the right lane, and in front of it four Seattle police cruisers, a small crowd of people, and even a fellow with a video camera on a tripod.
I asked people in the store for the story, and it seemed that a woman attempting to jaywalk across Lake City Way had been struck by the bus.
The accident had happened at 4:25pm – the same moment I’d left Ride West in my car. Every person I talked to made a disparaging remark about people who can’t be bothered to walk to the corner and use the pedestrian crosswalk. This seems cruel, but is probably the human effort to separate ourselves from tragedy by concocting a reason why that could never happen to us.
With my light bulbs and chicken, I got back in the car for the rest of the drive home, which was simple and smooth once past the accident scene. As I snuggled in for an evening of unhealthy food, a beer, and one of our favorite TV shows, my mind began to wander back.
I know the woman, now in critical condition at Harborview, should not have jaywalked across Lake City Way. But what had I done a few hours before she did? The same thing. Going out for a bit of a walk to pry my brain out of my computer, I had strolled across the same street, although at a much less crowded time of day. What was she thinking? What was so important she felt she had to take such a rash action? Her life will never be the same as a result of a hasty decision, the sort most of us make in the course of a day.
How about the bus driver? What must it be like to be scurrying along in rush hour traffic trying to keep to a schedule pared down to the last second, and then see a human appear right in front of you and go flying as the mass of the bus crushes the body? All this would take place in less time than it takes to write, and yet that driver will never forget. Worse, he or she will probably be forced to replay the scene at night for years. How dreadful to wake up from a nightmare and realize it is not really a night mare, but reality running across your brain channels – again.
What about me? If I’d left work ten minutes earlier, it might have been me that hit her. How would a human body do if struck by the front end of a Honda CR-V at 30mph? Probably not much better than if hit by a bus. What if I’d left at just the wrong time to arrive at the point of impact on a motorcycle? How would I have reacted if I had not hit her, but seen her body go flying and slam to the pavement?
None of these are thoughts that bring peace.
I hope the woman survives, and recovers. I hope the bus driver is able to deal with the trauma.
I hope I can be even more aggressive in my attempts to note the positives of each day, and be grateful I have so many of them.
I need to step back more often to give myself more time to make even a casual decision, when possible. Looking both ways before you act is good advice, and even better as a life metaphor.
Copyright 2012 David Preston