The view of me from the perspective of the male passenger in the car I
almost T boned.
I had to run to Kmart right after work. I was on the Magna that has only soft leather saddlebags and no trunk. This meant a trip home to drop off my laptop and briefcase as I had no way to lock them up while I was in the store.
Leaving my house, I turned off Wood Street onto West Eighth Street. The speed limit here is 45 mph. It was between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. so the traffic was building to rush-hour volume. I was pacing traffic as we slowed approaching a mass of cars pulling through a traffic signal that had just turned green. I was in the far right hand lane on this three-lane street. We were less than halfway down the block approaching midway. The vehicle in the middle lane was just ahead of me. I was in his blind spot and decided to drop back a little. This proved difficult because we were both already slowing down due of the traffic ahead of us. I did manage to let the car get far enough ahead of me that he wouldn’t hit me with an unexpected lane change.
I noticed a car in the alley on the far side of the road with its bumper sticking out past the curb. I was sure it would cross the road using the alleys as soon as the pack of vehicles cleared that spot. As I was hugging the back of the pack, I wasn’t concerned with it. Even if the driver stomped the gas after the car ahead of me passed, it couldn’t be in my lane before I got past. But that’s not what the driver did.
The far left lane was empty, the last vehicle in it having passed the spot several seconds ago. Just as the front of the car in the middle lane came even with the spot, the driver in the alley accelerated across Eighth street. She had obviously, and correctly, calculated that the vehicle in the center lane would get clear before she reached the middle lane. Apparently she hadn’t seen, or allowed for, me on my bike trailing behind in the far lane.
Fortunately I had been watching her. I wouldn’t be here writing this blog if I hadn’t. But even so, I suddenly found myself in a bad spot. I’ve been in tough spots a few times in my life, and I’m always amazed at the way perception changes. I heard some describe it as, “time slowing down.” I understand why some might describe it that way, but don’t fully agree. It’s more like my brain begins to process thoughts differently. In normal times, I seem to go through a sequential process to reach an inevitable conclusion. In the stress times, I do away with a mental speech process and work with completed concepts. As the car pulled out, I was instantly aware that it would intersect my path resulting in my T-boning it. I didn’t bother forming the words in my mind, but moved immediately to the next impression. I was aware of how inadequate my situational awareness was. I wasn’t sure the lane to my left was clear from behind. Trying to go there to pass behind the car, even if I could make it, might put me in the path of another vehicle.
My body had reacted instinctively hitting both brakes. I became aware of a screeching noise and realized my back tire had locked up. Even as I accepted this information, my foot eased pressure and the squealing stopped. I remember being satisfied that there was no sudden jolt as the tire again found grip, meaning that my back end had not been fishtailing.
Another piece of data my brain found cause to store away was the fact the windows were open on the car. Temperatures were in the upper 90s and most drivers had the air condition running with windows up. It just struck me as odd that this car had both front windows down. I was also surprised that I could hear the occupants of the car. A young woman who appeared to be in her early 20s was driving. Her head was turned in my direction and she seemed to have been talking a male passenger about the same age. I didn’t make out her words, but watched in fascination as her mouth formed a perfect little O as her eyes widened when she saw me bearing down on them.
I had absolutely no chance to stop the bike before reaching the spot presently occupied by the car. But I did have hopes of slowing down enough to let her get out of the way. I remember mentally pleading with her to not hit her brakes. I also found her expression interesting. Her eyes seemed to be pleading with me to do something to somehow prevent the impending collision. Otherwise, she seemed frozen. That may have been fortunate, because she didn’t hit the brakes.
The male passenger had been looking at something in his lap. My screeching tires must have gotten his attention and caused him to look up. He would have seen me closing fast, aimed directly at his door. I heard the “Aaawwwwwww,” very clearly, but only caught the lingual consonant at the beginning of the next word before momentum carried him out of my path. It sounded like air escaping from a punctured tire.
I had been drifting left even as I continued to press the brakes. I was making eye contact with the driver and remember trying to give her a disgusted look that would convey the thought, “Lady, why did you do that?”
Then it was over. The road ahead of me was clear. I’d missed her car by little more than the thickness of a coat of paint. But that was enough to give me the chance to learn a lesson.
“Ride like they’re all trying to kill you,” a friend previously admonished me.
And on this day, it looked like she was.
－ Guy Wheatley