I’ll admit it. I occasionally allow myself to explore that “what if” fantasy that all long-haul transit commuters entertain from time to time. What if I was driving today? I could be there already! I wouldn’t be sitting next to this guy who smells like old peanut butter! My shoes wouldn’t be wet from walking to the transit center!
I certainly think those thoughts once in a while, when the bus is packed or the train is late. And then something happens to that reminds me why I’ve all but abandoned the automobile in the first place.
In my case, that “something” happened a couple of days ago. My 12-year-old daughter and I were leaving the grocery store in my battle-hardened ’96 Volvo when a speeding white blur appeared in the corner of my left eye. Instinctively, I hit the brakes and cranked the wheel to the right. The blur, later found to be a 21-year-old kid in a giant RAM truck, cranked his brakes on as he blew through the stoplight, but it was too little, too late. We collided with a sickening thud.
There’s a moment after a car accident when time unwinds. Everything slows down, speeds up, slows down again. I looked over at my daughter to see if she was okay. She was. My head hurt from hitting the side window when he crunched us. He came running over, his truck in the middle of traffic, shouting apologies and claiming responsibility.
Had I had my wits about me, I’d have said something like “make sure you tell that to your insurance company!” As it was, the poor guy was mortified. We pushed my car to the side of the road, drove his in front of it, and worked out the details.
Two days later, with a little hindsight, all I can say for sure is that I’m even less interested in driving than I used to be. My car is a total loss. My fiancee and I have totaled two cars in four months, both of them smashed by large trucks, neither of them our fault. I’ve got doctors’ appointments ahead of me as I work to untwist my back and neck, and more hassling with his insurance company to get a fair price for my car, and then some car-shopping to do.
Tomorrow, I’ll get on the MAX and head to Hillsboro, as I always do, and I will look at the cars racing by on the freeway, and for a while I will only be able to see two-ton missiles of metal and plastic and glass. I’ll breathe deeply and open my book, and I’ll wish that the whole world would realize that it’s okay to slow down a little. It’s okay, people of the world, if you don’t race each other to see who can glean the last drop of oil. It’s fine to consume a little less and keep the 12-year-olds of the world a little bit safer and happier.
It’s okay to just ride.