A Half-Step to Forever

January 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm (On the road again..., That's not funny...)

After what would qualify as a sucky weekend in most worlds, I’m oddly upbeat. Is it the canceling of Leno? (Nah. I’ve never watched his new show, or wanted to. Dum dum dum dum…) The fact that I went on a bad date and survived? Thrived even? Nah, that wasn’t a happy thing.

There was another thing that happened, a scary thing that really made me think…

I was riding the bus home the other night, along with one of my neighbors. He’s a nice old guy, he lives with his 80+ year-old mother. He seems to be a bit “slow” but is alert to his surroundings. We chat while waiting for the bus, and often run into each other on the way home. The first time I noticed him? We were dressed exactly alike, like his mom had dressed both of us. The only difference was the logo on the ballcap. We eyed each other. I was going to make a wisecrack but he seemed truly embarrassed, so I left it alone. It hasn’t happened since.

He was at the stop when I was coming home from the grocery store. We exchanged pleasantries, he commented about the rain, and how it got dark so early. Typical stuff. I say a couple things, he relaxes, and we are good for the ride. It’s a short trip to our stop. We deboarded, and he said goodnight.

What happened next was one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-seeing-this things. We live on a fairly busy road, speed limit 35. A lot of folks exceed that, so a tree-planter has been installed next to a crosswalk to slow cars down. There is a street light over the intersection, but the area is still dim.

My neighbor seemed irritated that it was spitting rain. He charged off in a hurry, heading for the crosswalk. I noticed a car coming a few blocks away, and it was coming fast.

I know the law states that pedestrians have the right of way. That law is respected somewhat in the downtown core, but in southeast Portland? If you get in the way of a moving car, you are a damn fool. Smacking the hood and getting indignant is a lot easier to do when the car is doing 5 MPH, as opposed to 50 MPH.

The oncoming car was hauling ass.

My neighbor marched into the crosswalk. Surely he’s going to stop and let the car pass? He seemed oblivious. Head down, he kept walking. I felt the panic rising as he stepped from behind the tree into the path of the car. Suddenly life was in slow motion.

The car swerved into the bike lane, brushing the old guy back with a violent woosh! He was startled out of his reverie, and he began cussing and spitting and shaking his fist at the car and its driver.

I took a few deep breaths and swallowed my heart back down where it belonged. The old guy stomped on, cussing the rain and the traffic and probably a few other things as well. I hurried home with a sick feeling in my stomach.

I resisted pouring a giant glass of Clairissa’s vodka, choosing to sit quietly and reflect on the experience. The reflections took a few days to process. I lost my older brother in a similar fashion; he was hit by a station wagon doing 45 MPH as he walked down an exit ramp from a rest area. The only way my sister could recognize him was because of his porkchop sideburns. He died after a day and a half. While I didn’t get to see him off, the imagined images are unerasable. I still think of him as the scrawny, rust-colored idol of my youth, not the roadkill he became. This momentary sequence ripped those memories open like a Band-Aid over a fresh scab.

I wonder how things would have turned out had the old guy been a half-step faster? I wonder if actually seeing the event would be worse than what I imagine, given my history on the subject. I know the poor driver’s life (who probably was just trying to get home ASAP) would have been irrevocably changed. While the car was moving fast, I couldn’t swear that it was speeding. And in the end, no matter whose fault it was, the dumb motherfucker would still be dead.

So kids, at the risk of sounding like your Grandpa, look both ways before crossing the street, and don’t assume that just because you think you’re right doesn’t mean the universe is going to see it that way.

Life is a video game, and you only get one quarter. Play that quarter wisely.

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