A Hard Left at the Diner

Originally from RKP.

I looked down at my plate. A grilled chicken leg, some couscous, and two pieces of raw celery. The celery wasn’t meant to be there. It was supposed to be corn, but I was on my way to the grocery store when the motorcycle hit me.

You don’t expect to be hit by a motorcycle. There is a two-wheeled identification, I think. They run so many of the same risks we do. But then sometimes all that power and speed creates its own risks.

I was taking a left by the diner, at the busy intersection that splits the town center, two lanes in each direction, me in the left, near the center line. I put a foot down and waited as cars approached, but then the light went yellow, and they were all so far back. None of them would make it, so I pushed off.

Then I heard a high whine, the unmistakable sound of a throttle twisted full out. I looked up to see a large black motorcycle gunning for the light. In retrospect, I can understand what he was thinking. He couldn’t really make the light, but at that speed he would clear the intersection before the waiting cars rolled in. It was a bad call, but I can understand that. I’ve made a few of those myself.

I stopped.

In the split second it took to see him, he also saw me and understood that he would have to take evasive action. If we were both moving, I thought, we might swerve into each other. By that point, he was already trying to get the bike back under control, but it was really too late. A bike that size doesn’t slough speed fast enough once you’ve flooded the engine with a full twist of the throttle. His front wheel started to shimmy.

Time slowed and stretched as it does when your attention is drawn into laser focus by a large object bearing down on you.

I wasn’t afraid. Either he wasn’t on line to hit me, or my brain couldn’t do the math on that outcome. Regardless, I felt a hard yank on my rear wheel that spun me to the ground. I didn’t register that I was hurt or not hurt. I just sat there thinking, “What the f*&$ was that?”

I turned to see the motorcycle wobble to a stop 25 yards further up the road and then fall over, its rider clearly trying to understand what had just happened.

Cars rolled up alongside me. Someone asked if I needed an ambulance. Another asked if I was ok. I dismissed them both. I might have said, “Thanks for asking,” but I’m not sure. By then I could see that my rear wheel was destroyed, rim broken, spokes dangling in space, the rear brake rotor bent like a badly warped record. I felt angry, and I wondered if I’d be facing an argument about who was at fault.

I walked cautiously up the road with my disabled bike slung over my shoulder.

Before I could say anything, my assailant yanked off his helmet and said, “I really f*&$ed that up. I’m so sorry.” And then the anger drained out of me. Cars continued to idle past, gawking, some shaking their heads, others mouths agape. Time resumed its normal pace. We exchanged information. I called a friend for a ride. It was 15 minutes before it dawned on me that I could have been killed.

There is a temptation, even a pressure, to invest in shock and fear when something like this happens. You tell people the story and they say, “You got lucky!” or “It could have been so much worse!” And I think, “Sure. Yes. True.” But I could die any time a car passes me where the shoulder narrows. I can’t invest in shock or fear. I’d never ride a bike again.

And it was in the moment that I looked down at my plate and noticed the celery, there next to the chicken leg, that the oddness and improbability of the whole thing struck me (pun intended). One of my kids made a bad joke, and I laughed, and I did feel lucky, and not afraid at all.