Friday, July 25, 2008

Biker Down!

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. All in all I'd have preferred later - much later...

I awoke yesterday morning, about a half an hour before my alarm would have buzzed, to the lovely sound of, "Joe! There's no hot water!" Investigation downstairs revealed a leak in the hot water heater. After having been grounded from the bike for days because of my weekend trip and then a few days straight of rain I spent the better part of yesterday, which was mostly sunny and relatively cool, waiting for the plumber. After supper I was finally able to get on the bike and when I made it to my favorite Sheetz station, a few miles away, I called a friend to see how her friend who'd been hospitalized was doing. We chatted for a few minutes and just as I was firing up the scooter I heard a siren approaching from a short distance away. I slowed as I rolled toward the exit and determined that the emergency vehicle which was a fire truck was coming from my left. My eyes followed it as it came toward me and then continued to the right. I still didn't notice the accident, maybe 500 feet to my right until the truck, the first vehicle to respond, came to a stop. That's when I saw the accident. That's when I saw the bikes in the middle of the scene.

I made my way out of the exit and the accident was in the direction that I'd been headed anyway. As I rolled past, hoping against all odds that the bikes I'd seen belonged only to witnesses and not to one or more of the accident victims, I knew I'd wasted a good wish when I saw the guy on the ground beside his bike which his riding companion had already righted. He wasn't moving, and ironically, he was wearing a bright orange safety vest. As I drove away more responders arrived. An ambulance. A few police cars. It was then that I realized that the accident must have happened while I was on the phone barely a good stone's throw away. I could have been the guy lying on the ground if not for my decision to pause to make that call. It was a sobering realization.

I said a prayer, and a half mile later when it was safe, I did a U-turn. I needed to know that the rider wasn't dead. As I passed by the scene for the second time, this time closer to the lane where the accident had happened, he was still down as the paramedics scrambled about. I went back to Sheetz, rolled around the parking lot, and came down the exit ramp again pausing at the bottom to take the picture I knew I'd want to post here. I waited through a few light changes at the intersection where the accident had happened just studying the scene and letting the huge sobering feeling sink into me. My best guess was that somebody leaving the casino alongside the highway did a right turn on red in front of the bikes. I'm so vigilant in watching for somebody attempting the classic left turn in front of me that until now I'd not much thought to watch for somebody on the right who might pull out on his red into my green. It was a lesson, but taught to me at another man's expense.

Eventually I left the lot, turning to pass the accident scene again. When I got close enough to see between the emergency vehicles I saw the rider, shaky, but on his feet. I can't describe the feeling of relief that washed over me, but I'm sure you can imagine it if you haven't felt it under similar circumstances yourself. I'd seen motorcycle accidents before, but this was the first since I started riding. I didn't know the man who went down, but it felt as if he were my brother. Though I ride a humble scooter I feel a fraternal kinship to others who ride on two wheels, even bicyclists. No matter how rough and tough a man might look on his bike, on the road he's as fragile as a possum, or a deer, or anything else that ventures out onto a roadway wearing mostly his skin as armor. I need to keep remembering that.

1 comment:

Drake said...

As a fellow scooterist, there are two things I hate about intersections. One is the right turn on red. The other is the left turn on green. I think both are very dangerous for all motorcyclists. Last night, someone didn't see me on a scooter and turned into the far left lane on a right turn. Luckily I was watching them and slowed down to make sure I wasn't alongside them when they made the turn. Behind the car, I honked my horn for a good 1/4 mile to ensure they got the message.

Be careful, it's a jungle out there!