A driver stops to help keep a cyclist safe

I received an email yesterday from a reader who wanted to thank a stranger for an unexpected kindness on her morning commute.

I’ll let her tell the story:

The truck pulled over on the side of the road, for reasons she'd soon learn

Before I headed out this morning, my blinky clip snapped.  While fumbling to rubber-band it onto the loop on my bag, the push button fell off. I stabbed at the hole with a pencil to turn it on, and failed.  Undercaffeinated and cranky, I headed out into the misty dawn, feeding myself all kinds of nonsense:  It’s almost sunrise anyway; the bike lane is wide; drivers know there are cyclists along this route; the seat stay has a (completely insufficient) knoggy skull with blinking eyes, and besides my bag has (tiny) reflective straps.

Several miles into my commute, between four lanes of Pacific Coast Highway and a slim sandy strip of solid earth next to the wetlands, a big white pick-up truck suddenly zipped in front of me, crossed over the bike lane, and came to a quick stop, half parked on the sand.  I slowed to a crawl and wondered what was up.  Was the driver having a medical emergency?  Did he need to make a phone call?   Engine trouble of some sort, maybe?  The driver, a tall male, stepped out of the truck and opened the left passenger door.  Ah, okay, so something in the backseat had spilled, or was rattling around.  Or maybe he was double-checking a child’s safety seat.  But then he pulled out a flumpy dayglo vest, and I was instantly certain he’d be changing a tire.

I was wrong.

He turned in my direction and hailed me.  I had slowed way down because, you never know, if nothing else I could offer my cell if his didn’t have enough juice.

The unidentified driver; if you know him, say thanks for all of us

He said hi and explained he’d been passing me every morning all summer, and the mornings are getting darker now, with fall coming.  He held out a brand-new, reflective, dayglo mesh safety vest and said it was for me.

I kind of stared for a moment.

Naturally I accepted it.  Then, I kind of babbled.  I don’t remember about what, although I did kind of apologize that even though I know better, I remain too stupid to wear a helmet.  Then the guy dropped a bombshell that explained a great deal of his desire to illuminate me.

Last month, on this same stretch of highway, a drunken, impatient creep in a pick-up had used the bike lane to pass slower traffic, and had then struck a motorcyclist when swerving back out of the bike lane.  This happened at half past four on a cloudless, sparkling summer afternoon.  The drunk driver fled the scene.  Two days later, I read about this in the paper, and bemoaned the rotten human race with equally appalled friends.

This guy standing before me, handing me the gift of safety?  He had witnessed the crime and pulled over, along with another horrified witness.  He stopped and knelt by the severely injured cyclist and kept talking to him until the medics arrived.

The nearest fire station, staffed with at least two paramedic-level responders at all times, is literally within sight of the crime scene; I could see it in the distance beyond the Good Samaritan’s shoulder.  Our fire department has one of the fastest response times in the entire nation–in fact, in the world.  Yet to this bystander, and certainly to the injured party, it must have seemed an eternity until the medics arrived to provide care and transport.  It is difficult to deal with a person in agony even when you know what to do.  This guy had no medical training, but he did everything right: he did nothing that would exacerbate extant trauma, and he provided psychological comfort, which has a beneficial physiological effect.  Most importantly, he gave a damn, which is more than the perp who had left the biker for dead could be bothered to do.

I thought about heroes on the rest of my commute.  In an Ethan Coen poem (from his book titled, ironically, The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way), the narrator observes a crowd of good strangers assisting a toppled geezer, and after contemplating his own possible future topple, concludes with, “Golly, I hope I get good strangers.”

I know how to provide spinal immobilization, how to assess trauma, how to MacGyver an occlusive dressing, how to manage looky-loos, and I do it if I have to.  I hold the elevator, share my hand sanitizer, and hell yeah, I’ll cork an intersection for a wobbly abuelita who can’t make it across in time.  And if she topples, I’m right there.  I support the LACBC’s City of Lights program and carry extra reflective slap bands to hand out to the so-called “invisibles.”  And yet clearly I am so lacking in common sense for myself that I worry good strangers.

I didn’t get this guy’s name.  I didn’t offer mine.  Despite my appreciation, I don’t remember whether I even thanked him.  He’ll probably see me tomorrow morning, lit up like the Fourth of July, gratitude bouncing off my new high-vis vest in blinding beams.

Dude, whoever you are, wherever you are, thanks.  Not just for the vest, but for the reminder that there are good strangers out there.

We won’t get into the argument over whether hi-vis vests should be necessary for drivers to see us.

Or the necessity for motorists to drive safely and pay attention to others on the road with them — unlike the jerk who left the motorcyclist laying injured in the road.

Her story isn’t about that.

It’s about someone who cared enough about a total stranger to do what little he could to help keep her safe. And a rider who didn’t respond defensively, but instead accepted the gesture in the spirit it was intended.

It’s also the most uplifting thing I’ve read in a long time.

And something we could all learn from.

Myself included.

10 comments

  1. The Trickster says:

    Awesome story! I don’t agree with fluero, but hey, its the gesture that counts.

  2. carolyn laing says:

    wow…what a beautiful story..thankyou for sharing this….my brother was struck by a drunk driver and killed….even though he was wearing all the safety gear the force of the impact was to great..that man that stopped to give this guy the safety vest is an angel….

  3. Louie says:

    Thank you Ted for sharing this and thank YOU kind sir for restoring my faith and hope in humanity.

  4. Peter R says:

    Wonderful story.

    But a simple rear-reflector, properly mounted, works nearly as well as a blinky and makes a suitable backup. If you want to take it up a notch, use a 3 inch amber reflector – VERY bright.

    I alsways carry a spare battery headlight in my bag in case my main headlight fails. And I have an amber rear reflector in case my rear light fails. Since you can’t see the taillight, it could fail without you noticing, which is why you always want a reflector in addition to a tail light. Some blinkies DO have a reflector built into them, but it is a low grade CPSC reflector which is inadequate, IMHO.

  5. Biker395 says:

    What a great story.

    You know, it’s a strange calculus. We get passed by hundreds … sometimes thousands of motorists a day. I can honestly say that the overwhelming majority pass me with room to spare, exactly as they should do. A small but significant minority actually offer encouragement. And once in a great while, someone blows a horn, or tosses a unfriendly word in your direction.

    It’s odd isn’t it? How the good outnumber the bad, and by such a wide margin. Yet, it’s the bad we remember.

    I was once at the end of a long double, riding with my friends in the middle of the night, in the dark, on some lonely canyon road. A big black SUV pulled up along side of us.

    “Uh oh.” I thought.

    A window opened, and a young man leaned out of the passenger window.

    “Listen … if you don’t mind me asking … what the HELL are you guys doing out here anyway?”

    “Double century … 200 miles in a day!” We answered.

    He leaned over to briefly chat with the driver, then leaned out of the window again.

    “You guys are my HEROES! Rock on!”

    Or how about this? I was on a cross country tour and we were passing through the Big Horn Mountains on the way to Buffalo, Wyoming. We had a great descent in front of us, but unfortunately, there was major road construction going on, and we had to hitch a ride down. There was a LONG line of cars waiting their turn to be ferried across the 5 miles of dirt and gravel.

    We cajoled one of the highway workers into giving us a ride to the bottom in the back of his pickup truck. I threw my bike in the back, and hopped in. Off we went, leading a long line of cars behind us … who likely had been waiting at least 10-15 minutes.

    I chatted with one of the other guys in the back of the truck. I have a habit of gesturing with my hands when I talk … that and olive skin perhaps all that remains of my Italian heritage.

    And it cost me. One gesture knocked my rear view mirror right off my helmet, out of the truck bed, and onto the road. Bye bye, mirror.

    But wait … a jeep … directly behind us … he stopped! He saw the mirror fly off my helmet, and immediately stopped, holding the traffic back behind him. He stepped out, picked up the mirror, hopped back in and continued on!

    When we got to the bottom, he didn’t want to hold traffic back any more than he needed to, so he quickly handed me the mirror and excused himself, hopping back into his car and continuing on.

    I was aghast. Under those circumstances, with all those impatient people behind me, I rather doubt *I* would have done the same thing. I never got his name and only had the chance to say thanks.

    The reality is that the overwhelming majority of motorists really want to do the right thing. Yea, some … perhaps many … can be impatient. And there is a certain mob mentality such that once one is rude, the others seem emboldened to follow suit.

    But it’s important to remember the road angels. They’re out there.

  6. […] Breaking: Not All Driver’s Are Jerks (Biking In L.A.) […]

  7. Steve Herbert says:

    I recognize from photos this a stretch of PCH, adjacent to the Bolsa Chica wetlands, ahead of the truck is Warner Ave. While there is ample passing room, this stretch moves very fast 50 – 70 mph+ and being adjacent to the ocean is often gray and fog is not uncommon. The vest will help. Cool story.

    There is a parallel bike path on Bolsa Chica State Beach maybe 75 yards to the left of where the photos were taken and would be safer, but is shared with pedestrians and the mix, plus sand on the path can be maddening as a commuting cyclist. A separate cycle track could be built along the side of the road, but would be perceived as likely encroaching on the wetland and prohibited in the push for environmental protection.

  8. jenna says:

    Great Stories…both the post and the comments. Random acts of kindness are always fantastic to hear about.

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