Taking Life By the Handlebars

Editor's Notebook

Yesterday I saw a biker on DeWolfe Street talking to the driver of a car next to him. “Why did you overtake me and then turn right in front of me?” he asked. I immediately knew what had transpired: Biker in the bike lane on Mt. Auburn Street, car overtakes biker and makes an immediate right, biker slams on brakes and, if is lucky, avoids missing car. It has happened to me. You can’t see the car’s blinker—if it’s on—because the whole overtaking-turning maneuver happens so quickly that the car’s rear lights aren’t even in your line of sight before the turn. I was hit this way. I slid into the rear of the car, having braked so suddenly that my body was almost catapulted over my handlebars.

I was all right, that time.

Last Tuesday, I wasn’t so lucky. The car owner who opened his door in front of me didn’t give me the chance to brake. I saw the door, and then slammed into it with my neck and shoulder. Pain shot down from my neck to my shoulder and arm. I screamed in agony and in anger. If the driver had looked in his rearview mirror before he opened the door, he would have seen my front light (it was 5:15 p.m., already dark) approaching him along with the traffic on Broadway. If he had looked, I might be able to lift my left arm over my head, my left eye wouldn’t give me the look of a drug addict, and I would be spending my time writing my thesis, not going to more medical testing, more doctors’ offices.

Hopefully, in time and physical therapy, I’ll recover full motion in my arm. Already, my eye looks a bit better. But I winced when I heard the biker’s question. I remembered my impact. In my mind’s eye I saw that car door open in front of me again, that split-second before I was screaming in pain and in fury, at the door, the driver and the world that let this happen to me, now, right before I was supposed to go snowboarding with my family over break, right before my thesis chapter was due.

My bike, incidentally, is fine.

I grew up driving my car around a big city, and I know what it’s like to be a city driver. This isn’t a rant against the inconsiderateness of Bostonians. A relative of a friend was killed in a similar accident in San Francisco. I didn’t know that until this week, but ever since coming to college and becoming a full-time pedestrian and/or biker, I have been appalled by the way drivers slalom around the city streets in their 2-ton metal projectiles. How dare they play chicken with my life.

I know most of you (my readers) don’t drive. But maybe, at home over break, you will. Maybe you will be slaloming around the city streets. Even if you aren’t, even if your parents cart you from place to place, if you walk or bike, you can spread the message to those around you: Be careful, considerate, cautious. As the Hippocratic oath goes, first, do no harm. This, the holiday season, is the time we traditionally take to cherish those around us. We would do well also to remember, everyday, that we have each others’ lives in our hands.

Last Tuesday, I felt my mortality in the corner of a car door ramming into my neck, into my corroded artery, millimeters away from my trachea, driving the point home: Life is fragile.