July 2009 (Boston, MA)
The first bike I bought, as an adult, was this horrible, vomit-yellow, $30 World Traveler from a used furniture store in Allston, MA. The guy behind the desk told me that it was a parts bike that wasn’t fit to ride, but I was over-confident that I could get it in working order with this stupid fantasy of adding lube to everything, tightening the brakes and zipping all over the Greater Boston Area with surgical precision, with some laughs along the way. But, it was really a terrible bike, and even with a lot of help from more savvy friends, it was barely, barely ride-able at best. For its Maiden Voyage, I’d planned to ride from Allston to the Loews theater near the Boston Common to see (I think) Up with a friend of mine who wasn’t nearly as afraid of biking as I was. I remember having serious doubts about being able to make the trip on my terrible bike, but didn’t want to opt out of the trip, so I decided to keep my mouth shut and just try to do it anyway.
The funny thing about being hit by a car is that the immediate bits of time preceding the accident seem extremely slow, while the actual contact seems too fast to even process; you’re left lying on the sidewalk with a fuzzy, sequential disconnect of how you actually ended up there. In this particular instance, I was in the bike lane riding towards the intersection of Comm Ave and Babcock Street, probably tremendously excited to see Up, when a silver SUV cut into me while making a right turn. I saw the car coming, probably shouted something incomprehensible, heard the impact without really processing it, and was suddenly lying dumbfounded in the street with a lot of cars beeping at me.
The woman who hit me was nice enough, if not a little condescending. She was probably in her late 30s, and was very reluctant to take any blame for the accident. She kept saying things like, “Let’s try to figure out what happened — what either I could have done, or what you could have done to have prevented this from happening.” The whole experience left me feeling very hazy, and I don’t think I was very responsive. I remember being pretty forgiving, but my friend kept saying things like, “What happened is you hit him with your car!” The woman who hit me kept offering me money for bike repairs (which I declined, because that bike was awful and I didn’t have the wherewithal to lie), and asking if I needed to go to the hospital (which I also declined). Finally, she asked if I could tell her ~five-year-old son that I was ok, because he’d already been having a rough day and couldn’t handle seeing his mom seriously injure someone. But, when I approached his car seat, he hid his face in his hands and refused to look at me. At around this point, all the adrenaline had started to lose effect, and I began to notice all of the scrapes on my hands and legs. So, my friend and I decided it’d be better to ditch the movie and tend to those instead. While at her apartment, I noticed that my hands were shaking and I felt this sudden, almost overwhelming urge to cry. I felt stupid because the accident really wasn’t that bad, and had to focus very hard on keeping my voice from shaking.
Over the next few days, I joked about getting hit a lot with this faux “tough guy” tone to all of my friends, and probably exaggerated the details.
February 2011 (Cambridge, MA)
In New England, winter 2010-2011 was particularly cold and snowy, and the bike lanes and significant portions of the roads were completely absorbed by snow banks. So, bike commuting was infuriating both to the drivers, who already had very little road to drive on, and to bikers, who essentially had no road to bike on. Everyone just travelled slower than usual, and was generally pretty angry about it. By mid-winter, the snow banks had evolved into these brown and gray sludge mountains with lots of trash shoved into them — I don’t think they fully disappeared until around mid-March.
On some unseasonably warm and sunny day that February, I decided to bike around and enjoy the weather (by this point, the World Traveler had disappeared into obscurity, and I had more functional Trek 330). I was in what was left of the Mass Ave bike lane in Harvard Square, passing a long line of cars as I approached the super hectic intersection with JFK St. and Brattle St. In the slow time lapse that preceded this accident, I saw a man in my immediate path open his door to pour his coffee out. I remember trying to swerve, and then lying face first in a sludge bank in another adrenaline haze, once again unsure of what had happened. The guy who doored me was probably in his late 40s, and very handsome in a Kennedy sort of way. He was in a newish black Audi that was driven (I’m assuming) by his wife, who also appeared in her late 40’s, and was very beautiful, also in a Kennedy sort of way. She had both of her hands cusped over her mouth and looked horrified, while he continued to lean out of his car to ask if I was ok. In a shaky voice I remember saying, “You gotta… watch for bikers… man!” which, even at the time, was embarrassing because that’s not how I normally talk, and the words came out in that surfer-accent people make fun of bikers with. He said he knew, and was genuinely apologetic, and asked again if I was ok. I said I was and told him not to worry about it and said he could go if he wanted to, which he did. I oddly felt really embarrassed.
I dragged my bike onto the sidewalk, and tried to get all of the sludge off of my hands and face, which was futile because it just sort of amorphously got all over everything. Again, my adrenaline haze started to fade, and as I tried to walk away, I felt this searing pain in my left foot, at which point I dropped my bike and stumbled onto the signpost for the nearby bus stop. I remember leaning against the signpost and grimacing, with a lot of (I’m assuming) Harvard students who were waiting for the bus just sort of gawking at me. Their lack of concern is somewhat understandable because I’d become a stumble-y sludge monster, but considering how there’s no way they hadn’t seen what happened, I think they probably should have offered help in some way. Anyway, I limped to a bench somewhere on the campus, and took my shoe off to see what was going on with my foot. My pinkie toe was bright pink and had doubled in size, which really bummed me out.
I had to walk with a limp for about a month before my toe healed, and felt sort of embarrassed, but also sort of amused, whenever I had to tell someone I broke my pinkie toe when they asked about my limp.
September 2012 (Brooklyn, NY)
Any route I take home in Brooklyn inevitably has at least some stretch of road that’s awful to bike on; either the roads are in terrible condition, there’s too much traffic, drivers seem to be especially careless, or some combination thereof. So, the route I choose usually depends on what kind of mood I’m in or how quickly I’d like to get home. I’ve also developed a bad habit where I’m extra careful on the roads I consider awful, and less careful on the roads I consider fine, regardless of what the traffic is like.
On Monday, I was hurrying home from Flatbush after selling my old laptop to some buyer I’d found on Craigslist. I was biking up Willoughby (which is usually pretty tame, so I was in a less careful state) in a huge hurry because I wanted to drop the wad of laptop money off at home, and make it back out in time to catch an impending showing of Beauty Is Embarrassing at the IFC Center in Manhattan. There was a long line of cars on Willoughby, but the bike lane was empty and none of the cross streets had stop signs on my end, so I was pretty much biking as fast as possible without thinking much about it. As I crossed over Walworth Street from behind a delivery truck, I saw a flash of a green bumper, heard a series of metallic scrapes and thuds, and was suddenly lying in the sidewalk 10 feet away from my bike. Time didn’t seem to slow down this time, probably because I didn’t see it coming at all, but I still don’t remember much of the impact, and wonder how I got my feet out of my toe-straps. Consequently(?), I didn’t have the usual adrenaline haze, and instead just felt really, really angry.
The woman who hit me was a ~65-year-old British woman in a green Subaru. She had on a nice black dress and red cat-eye glasses, which, because I don’t know anything about the fashion industry, makes me think she belongs to the fashion industry. She got out of the car and immediately started apologizing. I yelled, “What in the fuck…was that? Stop sign!” because I was having trouble forming sentences through all of this anger that I didn’t know what to do with, and I assumed she ran a stop sign to hit me. She was really apologetic, and explained that the delivery driver waved her over, and there was no way she could’ve seen me through his truck. This made sense; I couldn’t see her through the truck either. Still, I couldn’t help feeling angry, and I kept scrunching my fingers and toes, and rotating all of my joints to make sure adrenaline wasn’t masking any injuries (I’d fallen for that one before). She was being as nice as she could have been about it, and initially offered me $50 for a massage (which also makes me think she belongs to the fashion industry, for no particular reason). I told her I’d rather her pay for any bike repairs, because I was still really angry and petulantly thinking things I’m not proud of like, “This bitch’d better fix my bike.” She offered to drive me to a bike shop, but I told her I could just meet her at one a few blocks away. As I walked over to the bike shop, I noticed my front wheel was bent but everything else seemed to be in working order (Which is good, because my current bike is this wonderful mishmash of parts on an early 80s Fuji VaLite Supreme, and I really love it. The Trek 330 went out of commission last summer when one of the rear dropouts snapped off).
My anger started to fade, but instead of being grateful for somehow not being even remotely injured, I felt very annoyed at the inconvenience of the situation. I also started to feel guilty about yelling at the fashion-lady, since I feel like the circumstances were pretty understandable. At the bike shop, I was informed that I’d only need a new wheel and tube, which would run about $60. Fashion-lady gave me $80, and I apologized for yelling at her. She said, “Oh, anyone would have. I suppose this is what you’d call a ‘New York Moment.’” I just sort of nodded because I didn’t know what she was talking about.