Close Calls

I haven’t been posting a lot lately because my days all pretty much run like, “I got up, took the train to school, went to class, read a bunch, came home after sundown, watched some TV, and went to bed.” Yesterday, however, I nearly killed someone, which is a bit more interesting.

My wife and I decided to go to dinner last night at a bistro in Menlo Park we’ve been meaning to try. So we get in the car and get on El Camino heading south. On this particular stretch of El Camino, there is pretty much always some guy tooling around on a bicycle, casually moving down the side of the road towards wherever. Last night was no exception. As we head down El Camino, however, this guy abruptly starts drifting across all four lanes. It took me a fraction of a second to register that he was drifting. It took me another fraction of a second to accept that yes, he was actually changing lanes. One more fraction of a second to recognize that he was going really, really slow. Then I was standing on the brake.

There are few moments with the clarity and focus of the half-second before an auto accident. I couldn’t swerve; we were in the middle lane, and there were people in the other lanes. I suppose I could have pulled the emergency brake, but I think I need at least a full second to think of that. So our brakes screamed and I watched him getting closer. With a couple yards to spare, I resigned myself to the collision.

Miraculously, with maybe a foot or two until contact, our speed dropped to less than his, and he started to gain ground. Then, finally, he looked behind him as we screeched to a halt. Perhaps I should mention he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Fortunately, there was no one else in our lane, so we didn’t get rear-ended. Instead, I just sat there for a moment as the smoke from our wheels drifted up and blew away. After a few seconds I had the composure to honk as our bicyclist friend wobbled back to the side of the road from whence he came.

If I’d been looking somewhere else — hell, if my reactions had been fractionally slower — we would have hit him. If we didn’t run him over, we would have knocked him into the next lane where the truck passing us would have hit him at speed. Best case scenario, we knock him flying forward and succeed in stopping before running him over. And remember, no helmet. He’d be toast.

Having reflected on all this, however, I realized that I was still stopped in the middle of a busy road, and should probably move on. By now, I had that sort of shaky fidgety feeling that you get when your body has dumped a big shot of adrenaline into your system that you don’t really need anymore. So when we noticed the guy still cruising along the sidewalk about half a block down, Jen rolled down the window and I screamed at him a bit.

“Sorry,” he called back.

On the other hand, dinner was nice.

Originally published on LiveJournal