Posts Tagged 'traffic accidents'

I Looked Both Ways Today

I looked both ways today. Twice.

Marion Weil died last Friday in a tragic bicycle accident. Although an investigation is proceeding, it seems that a motorist ran into Marion while she was with her much-used Como electric bike on Cuyama Road in Ojai.

The motorist apparently was headed west on Cuyama around 7pm; a time when the sunset is beautiful but also deadly for pedestrians and bicycles who are confronted by a glare-impaired driver headed directly into the sun with a two-ton metal behemoth. “I never saw her. The sun blinded me. I couldn’t avoid her.”

That evening, shortly after the accident, Jackie received a call from a friend. I was busy in the kitchen when her phone rang. I eavesdropped. “Hi, always good hearing from you. What’s up?” The casual banter ended abruptly and was replaced with, “No, I don’t believe it. Oh my god.”

The conversation went on for a minute or two and I became more intrigued by it. It was obviously something more serious than a jilted woman, the inability to get a hair appointment, or the latest on the faculty infighting at Cal State.

I became more anxious as I tried to guess what was going on. Jackie completed the call, turned to me and said, “Marion Weil was hit by a car. She’s dead.”

A nanosecond passed and I thought, “That’s not right. It’s a mistake.”

Marion had been in our back yard about a month ago. At first refusing our cheap wine, she relented and had her fill. Clever and quirky without wine, she added humor and cuteness when she’d had a couple. At 78 she was analytical, remembered everything, and made physical fitness one of her mantras. She most assuredly planned to live to the biblical age of six score years.

In the midst of the pandemic, here was a perfectly clad Marion, without a sense of time, enjoying herself while regaling us with her upcoming adventures. Never shy, she revealed herself freely, and simultaneously questioned us unmercifully. I thought she’d never leave, yet we felt that something was missing when she finally walked out the gate.

Marion’s whereabouts were generally unpredictable. We often drove by the structure that housed her and her tenant, the Livingston Visiting Nurse Association. We looked for her unpretentious car as an indication of her Ojai presence. We often joked that when Marion became incapacitated by old age, a doubtful event, she only needed to walk the 50 steps between her digs and the VNA to jump into Hospice.

It doesn’t matter how many days pass; it seems like she is still with us. I expect to see her car in front of the VNA when I drive down Matilija Street. Or receive a text from her suggesting that we gather again in our backyard to meet a new friend. Or announcing that she’s off to Orange County to visit her favorite niece, and that she would be gone for an extended time. Maybe until fall. Maybe beyond. She’d promise to keep us in the loop, of course.

In addition to bequeathing a legacy of community involvement and support, Marion has left me with something else. Call it being careful. Call it a warning. Call it a wakeup.

I look both ways, twice, when crossing the street. Even that seems too little. I listen for the sounds of oncoming traffic and then realize that electric cars are stealthy. I look into the shadows cast by the giant oaks, fearing that a block of steel, painted black, is waiting for me. Playing no favorites, I also search for the oncoming bicycle which, while less lethal, could end my Shelf Road hiking escapades.

Not wishing to further irritate a driver who may be just off an argument with the spouse, I wait until traffic has cleared before stepping into the street. Pedestrian right-of-way means little to a preoccupied, irritable driver. Once in the street, I scurry across to reduce my chances of becoming one with the machine.

But there is a further urgency. Besieged by the latest Covid-19 affliction statistics, ballyhooed vaccine development, and moving target social engagement rules, Marion had little time to devote to the possibility of death on a bicycle.

Yet here we are. A reminder that we plan, and god laughs. Just when you think it’s safe to come in from the cold, a glacier falls on your face. Or as Forest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

I think I’ll get a new bike.

Make no exceptions

The morning started out peacefully enough.  Dragged myself down the hill to Help of Ojai, a little early expecting the Highway 150 road slurrying to delay me.  But it was even too hot for slurrying.

Checked out the tires, arranged the seatbelts and cleaned windows on the Help bus.  The birds had been particularly active over the weekend.  Tuned to KUSC, maneuvered out of the lot and drove north on Signal Street.  I passed the bowl reconstruction, the occasional parked car limiting the street to one and a half lanes, and arrived at the always-red light at the corner of Ojai Avenue.  So far so good, even without my morning coffee.

Heading north, the Signal/Ojai Avenue corner is virtually a blind intersection.  The post office blocks your view of westbound traffic (including pedestrians) while the theater severely limits any idea of what’s headed east.  I nearly always refuse to make a right turn on the red for fear of a fender bending  holocaust…or worse.

I am a reasonably conservative driver.  More so as I age.  Even more so with the bus.  Last thing I need is an accident or ticket.  Might lose my job and have to go on the public dole.  Wait, I am on the public dole.

The light turned green.  I cautiously began my re-entry.  Whoosh!  From the sidewalk on my left, using the crosswalk, moving at the speed of light against the red, came an apparently invincible bike rider.  Cheating death because it was me dragging my fanny, rather than someone else who was three minutes late to his first meeting of the day.

Flashes of letters to editor extolling biker rights, motorist crudity and the unfairness of traffic laws applying equally to all.  Another hapless young man flattened by someone in charge of a three ton behemoth.  What might have been.  Sharrows notwithstanding.

 Yes, I know that this unthinking biker was the exception.  Just like bad drivers are the exception.  But death makes no exceptions.  And neither should we.

 


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