Friday, December 14, 2007

Hit and Stun...

...or Miracle on 18th Street. Take your pick.

Left The Reef in Adams Morgan some time after one this morning. At the bike rack out front, I bid farewell to Gwadzilla, who had accompanied me there after the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) holiday party (more about which later) for a bite and one more beer. We hopped on our bikes. Joel headed north up 18th Street. I took the southerly direction.

The early morning air was cool and moist, and the rain that had stalked the skies all the previous day had given up and gone to bed long ago. The pallid clouds adrift overhead gave no hint of the snowstorm that was promised for the weekend ahead. Traffic seemed heavy for this time of day, but not unusually so for the area, sedans and SUVs on my left shaking the pavement like a herd of elephants as they rumbled by, mere inches from my elbow. My pack felt heavy, too, owing to a camera and u-lock nestled in a raincoat within, among other, lighter items. The six of Mendocino Brewing Company's Imperial IPA I carried earlier was long gone, the empties huddling in a recycling can on the third floor of the WABA office several blocks southwest on Connecticut Avenue. I got on with the business of getting my tired ass through the next ten miles to my home across the Potomac.

At the corner of 18th Street and New Hampshire Avenue, just a few blocks down from Adams Morgan proper, I blew through the red in a sort of tunnel-vision trance, barely glancing left and right as I entered the intersection, and never breaking cadence. I noticed the glaring headlights maybe half a second before the cab t-boned me, its grill slamming into my left flank like a breaching ram, knocking the bike out from under me, and sending me skidding across the damp pavement like a crash-test dummy, clear of the area of impact.

Seems the oblique angle that New Hampshire Avenue makes as it feeds into 18th Street had joined authorial forces with the aforementioned beer in a plot to place their hapless (and irremediably complacent) protagonist squarely and irresolutely in the path of Doom, said Doom taking as its avatar the conflation of an Indian cabbie and the two-ton traveling tin encasing him.

In a flash I was up to move body and bike out of the road lest this play take on a grisly second act. Then I approached the hackie, who had somehow stopped short of running me over, and politely explained to him through a fogged and half-opened window that this mishap was entirely my fault. He was pretty shaken up by the ordeal, as were some pedestrians on the corner who asked me if I was okay. I was. I smiled at them, chagrined, and assured them that all my pieces were in place and still functional. I then mentioned that perhaps I'd had enough to drink for the night and the morning. I had.

I checked my bike for damage, and—Hephaestus be praised!—it had suffered nothing more than a flesh wound on the handlebar, the cork tape ruptured and rent and sprouting from an elbow bend like an unruly cowlick. My own elbow had a matching gash, as did the sleeve of my jacket. I spun both wheels, looking for wobbles, but they were as sound and solid as on the day I built them. Even my lights were still shining, the headlamp throwing a proud cone of white through the shadows, the red blinker on the saddle pack pulsing like a tiny robotic heart. Hell, my water bottle was still snugged down in its rack. I threw a leg over the saddle, anxious to escape interrogation by a curious constable who might chance upon the scene, and took off again, rolling down 18th with an eye open for M Street and any cross-flowing traffic.

Seconds later, I burst into maniacal laughter, feeling invincible and almost proud of how I'd come through this brush with mortality unscathed. A strange sense of levity overtook me, a delirious confidence that bordered on arrogance, transcendental and wholly out of place amid the grime and gunk of the city streets. I had—mindlessly, recklessly, foolishly, and sans helmet—pitted flesh and bone against iron and steel, outmatched and undersized and utterly unprepared, and come away with a draw. I had skirted if not death, then serious bodily injury. And it felt good!

In my euphoria, I rode past M Street and was forced to make a mid-block u-turn to come back up to it. I resolved then to pay closer attention to my surroundings, to where I was in relation to the impatient juggernauts crowding me to the curbside, and the miles dissolved behind me like so much fog in the early morning sun.

Was it good karma that I could ride away from this collision as if it hadn't happened? Or bad karma that it happened at all?

It doesn't matter, really. It's good to be alive.

11 comments:

GhostRider said...

Good God...you're a lucky man!

Glad to hear you made it out unscathed, and perhaps you'll be more careful the next time around...drinking and biking is fun and all, but it can get you killed pretty easily if you let your attention waver. Be careful out there!

gwadzilla said...

helmet-less bastard!

nice words

gmr2048 said...

Holy shit, man! That sounds like a damn close call. Glad you came through mostly unscathed. That coulda been baaad news.

Miles said...

I had a similar incident a few months ago, actually. A few differences:

1) The light was mine when I got into the intersection, but turned abruptly. 2) I can't make the excuse that I had been drinking :( 3) I ended up with a broken arm. Not to mention an absolutely trashed bike. Damn SUVs.

In any case, glad to hear you made it out alright!

rdeleyos said...

Good to hear you aren't more hurt. Have you decided to wear your helmet more? (y'know someone was going to ask :p )

Butch said...

damn! Sounds like you were one inches away from having someone else wipe your ass for you for the rest of your life. Glad to hear you were able to ride away. Most people aren't so lucky. Go play the lottery, you lucky bastard!

Hjalti said...

Glad you made it through OK.

DT said...

So chocolaty!

Dkeg said...

Steve, since you are O.K. I can say this...You stupid drunk ass, red light mean stop. Glad you are O.K. but next time stop.

Icon O. Classt said...

dkeg, you need to get out of the sticks and ride in the city (or town) more. Few who spend any time riding in urban areas would make such a fatuous blanket statement. Slow, yes, but stop only when necessary...of course, this was one of those times.

Don't be jealous just because Ganesh digs me so much...

Butch said...

I blow red lights because moving objects are harder to hit than stationary objects. It's a survival thing....