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:
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.
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.