Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Close Encounter of the Bad Kind

So on Friday, my first day in Boston, I ran into a car.

Here's the deal. I hadn't gotten enough sleep, I was a little stressed from travel, and I was in a hurry. I was walking up to campus to catch the men's intra-squad swim meet, but I'd missed lunch (the flight was at lunch time) and I was hoping to get something to eat along the way. I saw the walk sign at the next intersection and ran to make it. I got about a step or two into the intersection when--wham!--I collided with a car.

It was as if the car had sprung up out of nowhere.

I was fine, so I picked myself off the front passenger-side fender and walked in front of the car to continue across the street. I turned to the driver and said something like "I had the walk sign." (The whole conversation was civil--no yelling or anything. Just as if we were discussing the weather.) And he said--he was a guy maybe in his 40s--well, he'd had a green light and I hadn't looked. Which was true. I'd forgotten the most basic rule of street crossing--look both ways before you cross--so I said, "sorry" and finished crossing the street.

After the initial shock and befuddlement wore off, I was irate. I thought to myself, hey, I was the pedestrian. Pedestrians have the right of way. So what if I didn't look? Drivers can't hit pedestrians in crosswalks. And how did he know I didn't look? He must have seen me coming. (Or maybe he just assumed I hadn't looked since I ran into his car.) I was going to call this blog "Crazy Boston Drivers."

But the fact of the matter is that I had far more to lose from that encounter than the driver did. Frankly, the thought of getting hit by a car is a complete nightmare. So here are some points I need to keep in mind.

1. Look both ways before you cross the street. It's a bit ironic that I made it through England without getting squashed and then run into a car when I'm back in the right-side driving States. As far as I know the driver wasn't talking on a cell phone. He did stop. (I was a bit miffed that he didn't apologize or ask how I was, but the encounter may well have given him a near heart attack.) I wasn't on a cell phone, I just was stupid. But given the number of folks, both walking and driving, who are also talking or texting---well, it's a wonder there aren't more accidents.

2. When I'm a pedestrian, I think I feel too assertive. Yes, I might have the law on my side, but if I also have a car driving into my side, the law will be cold comfort. In the battle between pedestrian and car, the car always wins. The driver might end up in jail, but the pedestrian ends up in the hospital or the morgue.

3. I need to be more careful when I'm behind the wheel. I'm driving a multi-ton death machine. I don't think of my car that way, but if it connects with a person, that's what it becomes. Even if the pedestrian is a complete idiot and even if I haven't broken any laws, I will feel terrible if I hit someone. I need to remember that wherever I need to be is not more important than someone's life or health. And I need to be careful not to drive with my brain on autopilot.

Saturday I was walking back from campus, trying always to cross with the walk sign after looking both ways, when I heard cars honking. The light was green, but the first cars weren't moving and the cars behind them were impatient. When I got up to the intersection, I saw the problem. A man with a cane was hobbling as fast as he could across the street. Now that I'm supersensitive, I've noticed that some of the walk signs don't give even an able-bodied pedestrian adequate time to navigate the roadway. Folks with handicaps or age-related infirmities have a huge challenge.

We all need to chill and think of the other person. I'll try to do that when I'm back in the driver's seat.

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