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.

Freeway Fright

I spend a lot of time on the Gulf Freeway (I45 south of Houston), with my sixty-mile round trip to work and back every day.  Nothing much surprises me.  I’m used to dodging impatient motorcycles, keeping my little Corolla out of the blind spots of passing tractor trailers, and marveling at the number of people talking on their cell phones.  If I could see the ones thumbing text messages into their phones instead of watching the road, I’d probably be afraid to go out there at all.

I’m used to seeing everything from fender benders to car fires along the way.  Shoes, lawn chairs, hub caps, and ironing boards (honest, I saw one this week) find their way onto the pavement.  Debris on the Houston freeway system on any given day might range from bales of newsprint to chunks of concrete.

This morning I had an experience that would have been unnerving if I’d had time to think about it.  Traffic was moving right along, maybe fifty miles an hour, not unusual for a Friday morning, when a carton came flying into my lane, right in front of me, from somewhere to my left.  A big carton, maybe four feet by two feet by two feet.  Blue and yellow, I think.

Nowhere to swerve–there were cars in the lanes to either side of me.  No time to stop–the cars behind me would have piled right into me.  Maybe my driver’s instincts told me, from the way the carton bounced across the road, that it was empty, but it didn’t much matter.  I didn’t have a choice.

I ran right over it.

A quick look in my rear view mirror showed me chunks of cardboard flying harmlessly (I hope) through the air and bouncing along the pavement behind me.  Empty box, all right.  It was only then that I thought of what might have happened if there had been anything substantial in that carton.

Every time I get stuck in slow traffic, edging past an accident or waiting for one to clear, I remind myself that I might be late, but I’m not standing on the side of the road staring at my wrecked car.  Or worse.  Far worse.  I just thank the traffic angels and wait my turn.

What have you run into–figuratively, I hope–on your favorite freeway lately?