“Yeah,” I replied. “I heard you had a near miss yourself.”
“Almost was splayed across the hood of a car. This is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
We ended up talking (with a knock on wood thrown in) about how amazing it is that our workplace has had so few injuries from accidents with cars, seeing as how there are 100 some odd bike rides that go on to, from, and during a typical day here. A few people have been hit, there’s been a dooring or two, and some people have been taken out by train tracks, but for the most part we’ve been lucky. No one has been hurt too terribly, no one has died.
The next day, that Friday, he and I are in the lobby, and a cyclist has been killed. “I just hope it’s not someone I know,” he says.
I know. I feel the same way. No matter who it is though, it’s someone that somebody knows. That somebody loves.
I know my husband is alive, we’ve internet chatted since he got to work. “Who do we know who rides over there?” I question. I tell him to send out a roll call. The news updates. There is now a photo of the bike. The view is from a distance and the details are not clear, but I can tell it is not our roommate’s because its rims aren’t green.
Another coworker comes by my desk. “Did everyone show up for work today?” he asks. I tell him a photo of the bike has been released and pull it up on my computer so he can look. I’m sure he just wants to make sure he doesn’t recognize it.
The phone rings. It’s the wife of the attorney I was talking to earlier. “Have you seen my husband today?” she asks. “I heard some news that scared me.” I assure her that he’s alive and well. There is obvious relief in her voice as she says “Oh good. Then it’s probably best he doesn’t know I called.”
Another news update. His name is Neill Townsend. He is not someone I know. He was 32, an attorney. Reading his obituary on Saturday, I learned that he liked to read and was a transplant to Chicago. He and I have those things, as well as a love of bicycles, in common.
In reading the news, I have learned to avoid the comment section of cycling stories. I have had drivers tell me very directly that they wish I was dead, I don’t need to see it in type as well, but even some of the quotes in the articles left me shaking my head. From ABC7 News in Chicago, “’If you are going to ride a bike, it should be separate. Let them use the sidewalks or whatever, but not in here with all these trucks and traffic,’ said one man.” Or another, “People in the neighborhood are concerned about how many cyclists are on the street regularly.” Cyclists have every right to use the streets, just like cars. Attitudes like that are damaging. The problem is not that cyclists exist, but in trying to find the best way to make roads safer for everyone.
People make mistakes, we all know that. I’ve made mistakes both in driving and riding that could have been disastrous. Not only does everyone make mistakes, but everyone, whether in a car or on a bike, has a family, people who love them, their crew. They are parents, siblings, friends, husbands and wives. They work in every occupation imaginable. Bike or car, some of us are caring and nice, some are total jackasses. Sometimes we’re just having a bad day. The vast majority of us share a common goal in desiring to continue living. In making it to our destination without harming ourselves or anyone else. Imagine how it must feel to be the person who opened their car door and inadvertently ended a life? Devastating. Two seconds of carelessness, and for as long as you live, that is on your shoulders.
Once, while I was riding home, a woman nearly pulled out in front of me. “Whoa!” I shouted to get her attention. “Oh, sorry baby!” she shouted back, after slamming on her brakes. “It’s OK!” I yelled back. And it really was. She will always be my favorite close call because she felt bad. She made a mistake and she knew it. She was grown up enough to admit it and apologize. She didn’t want me to die. I bet she still looks twice for bikes.
This is just my plea to everyone to remember how fast life can change. How fast life can end. Pay attention. Give each other some room. Drive and ride with caution. And because he’s more eloquent with words than I could ever dream to be, I’m going to go ahead and end here with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind."