I was sitting up and angry, which was a good sign. The old lady who’d hit me with her Prius was standing next to my bike in the middle of the street, and a few inches away from my bleeding leg were her feet. She was dressed all in taupe, and from her taupe summer heels, all twenty of her painted toenails were lined up beside me on the pavement. She was standing with her feet very close to each other, and offering me her hands.
“Just would you stand up? So I know you’re okay?”
Her gnarled joints were right in my face and I was still tangled up in my bike and disoriented. Standing up was the last thing I wanted to do. I lifted my bike a few inches, and more blood gushed out of a cut on my knee. It was deep enough that beads of the fatty subcutaneous layer protruded along the edges. Great. Let’s assume I was in shock, because I only felt annoyed and sort of dismayed.
I’d turned around early on this particular training ride because I was still recovering from food poisoning. The heat wasn’t doing my stomach any favors, so that is why I was riding alone. I stopped at the stop sign, checked the map. I started rolling again, beginning a left turn onto Tice Valley Road, and saw the Prius gliding up to the stop sign–and not quite stopping. An old woman in big black sunglasses looked left and right–and kept rolling. I yelled and tried to speed out of her way. She sped up, too, looking straight at me, and hit my leg and back wheel.
And now she was eager for me to get up so she’d know I would be okay, “Because I’m on my way to the opera.”
My knees felt wrong, but not too wrong. I didn’t want to get up yet, though, because not only did I not care about her urgent need to arrive at the opera house on time, but running through my head was this weird memory of an interaction I’d had with another old woman when I was sixteen and working retail in a chain of department stores called Lazarus. She was shopping in the junior’s section, browsing but clearly just drifting through the store, looking for someone to talk to. Her hair was dyed very black and she walked with a cane, and talked with a labored curl of her lips.
“I used to be beautiful,” she said. “Don’t ever get hit by a car, honey. It’ll ruin your life.”
Almost twenty years later, I still dread car accidents. Maybe it’s from that old woman. Maybe it’s from hearing too many horror stories about bike crashes–from the guy who looked fine until he turned his head, and his vertebrae snapped, paralyzing him; to Melody Gardot‘s beautiful, horrible song about her near-fatal crash; to my wife’s own broken jaw incident. California’s three-foot law just came into effect, but there’s not a law in the world that will save you from someone’s rush and inattention. When a driver hits a cyclist, they always say they didn’t see you; yet in may case, it was broad daylight, we were at a stop sign, and I was wearing neon green and yellow. (The Oakland Triathlon Club kit could only be more visible if we added strobe lights.)
I say all this by way of repeating, yet again, a wish for caution. Slowing down for a cyclist only delays you by a few seconds. Please pay attention. Most of us are responsible–as most drivers are. We just weigh a whole lot less, and are a lot more vulnerable. We go to great lengths to stay out of your way, choosing routes that you don’t normally use. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, though, and even if you find us annoying, neither one of us wants to be involved in a crash. All of that self-righteous posturing goes away real fast when there’s a bleeding person on the pavement.
Anyhow, I’m grateful to be okay. A few stitches might be in order. My knees still feel weird, but I can ride and run. And whether the old Prius driver made it to her opera or not, my wife and I now have a new household joke: “Gotta go, babe. Gonna be late for the opera.”