A Close Call in Traffic

Early this afternoon I was driving across the Bay Area Boulevard overpass (over I45 south of Houston) when a man on a very large black motorcycle decided that the right lane wasn’t moving fast enough and he needed to be in the left lane, ahead of me, at the high point of the bridge.

 The Sunday afternoon traffic was leisurely, moving at thirty miles an hour or less, so I wasn’t concerned by his lane change, although he didn’t leave me much room.

I wasn’t concerned, that is, until Motorcycle Guy leaned too far to the left, laid his bike on its side and slid off and across the pavement, landing on his back.

I stomped on my brakes (thank you, Star Toyota service department) and stopped about two feet from the huge bike. Fortunately the driver behind me did the same and didn’t rear-end my poor little Corolla.

helmetMotorcycle Guy was wearing one of those soup-pot helmets that look like they came from the prop department of an old war movie. No visor, no neck protection. He was also wearing a scruffy tee shirt with ragged arm holes where the sleeves had been torn away, exposing lots of bare skin.

I sat there stunned for a moment, hoping Motorcycle Guy would sit up, or at least move, not quite knowing what to do. Fortunately the vehicle ahead of the bike, a big black SUV, stopped and backed up a few feet, and the driver, who must have seen what happened in his rear view mirror, jumped out and ran back to Motorcycle Guy. The driver to my right did the same, and by the time the two good-hearted drivers reached him, Motorcycle Guy was moving—and letting loose some fairly colorful language.

There didn’t appear to be much I could do to help, but I got out of my car in case I was needed. Traffic behind me, both lanes of the bridge blocked, waited with surprising patience. I don’t know how many drivers could see what had happened, but I didn’t hear a single horn complain.

The two drivers helped Motorcycle Guy, still cursing at the universe (and perhaps at himself), to his feet, and the three of them righted the bike. Motorcycle Guy climbed on, the bike started up, and he took off across the bridge. Both he and the bike must have picked up some scrapes and scratches, I’m sure, but both were mobile. If Motorcycle Guy stopped cursing long enough to thank his two helpers, I couldn’t tell. The rest of us climbed back into our cars, and traffic across the bridge returned to normal.

No harm, no foul, I guess. But I have to wonder what might have happened if Motorcycle Guy had pulled that maneuver on the freeway instead of the overpass, at sixty or seventy miles per hour instead of twenty five or thirty. Could I have stopped before hitting him? Could the driver behind me? Could anyone have safely stopped to help? Could that pot-like helmet have saved him if he landed on his head?

I see motorcyclists riding without helmets every day—I don’t believe they are required in Texas, a state where “personal freedom” trumps social responsibility all too often. I once saw a man riding a bike down I45 at sixty miles an hour, wearing no helmet—perhaps because a helmet would have interfered with the cell phone he held pressed to his left ear.

I hope Motorcycle Guy got home safely. I’m very grateful that I did.

Car Talk

Everywhere I looked on line this morning I saw car ads. They might be targeting me because a couple of days ago I visited the Star Toyota web site, looking for the phone number of their service department. Or maybe I’m noticing car ads because I’ve been thinking about cars this week. I hope I’m not seeing lots of car ads because I’ve been thinking about cars, and somehow the universal over-web knows that. That’s a bit much even for me. (But there might be a story in it . . . )

My 2004 Corolla and I have been together for almost ten years now (our anniversary is coming up in March) and we’ve covered 190,226 miles together as of this morning when I picked the car up at Star. We’re on our third set of tires and our third or fourth battery. One of those batteries gave out while I was paying for a tank of gas, prompting a call to AAA for a jump start. One part in the air conditioning system failed, no small matter in August in Houston. And one day I managed to hook the driver’s side mirror on a fence post while backing out of a very narrow driveway. As far as I can remember, those have been the only unscheduled repairs we’ve had in ten years.

So it came as a total surprise Tuesday evening when I stopped at a major intersection for a red light on my way to an RWA chapter meeting, and the engine shut down and refused to start again. Stranding me in the right hand lane at a green traffic light. At six o’clock in the evening. 

After I’d failed to restart it several times and turned on my flashing trouble lights, I pulled out my cell phone and managed to call AAA, in the dark, something of a miracle given my total incompetence with a cell phone, and given that I had to read the tiny little membership number off my key tag and punch it into a number pad that kept disappearing on me.

AAA could send someone, but it would be forty-five minutes to an hour. Better than nothing, I supposed, and so far the other drivers were politely going around me. I sat for a few more minutes before I put the key back in the ignition—and the car started right up.

Stunned, I went on across the intersection and headed for the restaurant where I was meeting friends before the meeting. AAA called back, and I managed to answer their second attempt (I pushed the wrong button the first time) and told them to cancel the service call. I can’t imagine how anyone can send text messages while driving; I can barely answer a phone call, much less make one, while I’m moving. By the time I got to the restaurant I was too shaken to eat all my French fries, if you can imagine that.

I held my breath at every red light and stop sign for the rest of the evening, and the car had no more problems. Started right up at the restaurant and after the meeting, but I was immensely grateful to the friend who followed me home. The next morning I took the car to Star Toyota, still holding my breath every time I stopped.

They couldn’t get to my car until the afternoon, and I work well outside their shuttle service limits, so I rented a car. They gave me a 2015 Corolla, and I had to ask one of the service people to show me around the dashboard. What a change from my 2004 model! Bigger, quieter (practically silent, in fact), and full of bells and whistles. Touch screen radio. Degree by degree temperature control. Rear camera for backing up. When I turned on the ignition the little screen behind the steering wheel said welcome and when I turned it off it said goodbye. Of course this was after I’d figured out how to raise the steering wheel so I could actually see what was hiding behind it. The last person to drive the car was a lot shorter than I am.

I wasn’t disappointed when Simon the service agent called to say that they had found (after the car refused to misbehave for them, of course) that the throttle body (who knew?) needed cleaning and a couple of gaskets needed replacements, and those had to be ordered. Cool, I said, I’ll just keep this car another day.

I almost hated to give the 2015 back this morning. It was fun, even driving 75 miles yesterday in really foul rainy weather. I’m thinking maybe there is one more new car in my future.

But not just yet. My 2004 is running like a top again, comfortable, dependable, economical, and long since paid for. How could I let it go before we pass the 200,000 mile marker together?