On Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, I was hit by a white Nissan, in the middle of a crosswalk, on the walk light, on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue.
I saw myself going over the car roof, rolling off the trunk and into the intersection — and directly under the wheel of the car behind the one that hit me.
It’s true what they say about close calls with mortality: Everything. Slows. Down.
Take any normal day — you know, that hubris we all commit against “living attentively in the present moment” — when you’re starting to cross a street on a walk light, minding your own business, not hurrying or distracted by a cellphone or music in earbuds, just walking across the street, and then suddenly you’re dead.
Seems improbable given those conditions, but there it is.
Except, I am alive.
The driver braked just as her car bumper connected with my left knee, leaving me with little more than a bruise for a couple of days.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
No match for a car
The world looks entirely different when you’re no longer viewing it from behind the wheel of a car. You see, my life changed in April 2014, when I sold my car.
Economics forced my hand. I could no longer afford its upkeep once it passed its tenth birthday and the 100,000-plus mile mark.
At first I was wary: How would I survive without a car? The attendant sense of shame didn’t help: The dealership sales guy agreed to give me a lift downtown, where I caught a bus home.
It felt like crossing over to a lower caste of society.
I mean, what sort of idiot doesn’t own a car?
However, things improved when Car2Go came to St. Paul and I quickly scored a membership. I use the service for groceries and other errands that require schlepping. Lyft and Uber are also handy in a pinch. The expanded Metro Transit bus routes and Green and Blue Line light rail have been godsends.
And for my first summer without a car I bought a bike and happily zipped around the cities. I found the biking community enormously welcoming. They made my carlessness feel like less of a stigma.
Biking, however, brought with it a new set of skills: negotiating traffic with cars, wearing safety helmets and brightly colored clothing, making sure headlights and taillights were functioning on the evening commutes.
But even the best biking practices are no match for a 4,000-pound vehicle. Especially when the vehicle’s operator has temporarily disengaged from the surrounding reality.
According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety website, “distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one in four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries” each year.
So my future as a professional pedestrian is fraught with peril.
I’ve learned to be more attentive when I’m out on the streets, especially when I hear new stories of driver-pedestrian-related crashes. And a day of waiting at crosswalks rarely goes by without me spotting some car stopped at the light, its driver gazing stupidly at a smartphone.
I don’t know if that was the case when I was hit last February. I only know that after the driver braked and connected with my knee, I motioned for her to pull over and get out of the car. Which she did.
“I’m so sorry!” she said. “Are you all right?”
I wasn’t sure. Grimacing, I pulled out my cellphone and dialed 911. She panicked.
“Oh please don’t call the police!”
“You nearly killed me,” I said, waiting for the dispatcher to pick up.
Soon two squad cars arrived. By that point the young woman was shaking and in tears.
My knee felt numb, but my head felt even more numb. Only then did I notice that I, too, was shaking.
The first thing the police did was make sure I didn’t require immediate medical attention. Finally they asked whether I wanted to press charges. I declined but requested they make sure the incident went on record.
Then I turned to the young woman and said, “You nearly killed another human being. I hope you think about that for a while.”
I really hope she did.
Michael Maupin is a St. Paul writer and former managing editor of Minnesota Law & Politics magazine. He blogs at www.completelydark.com and lurks frequently on Twitter at @completelydark.
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