Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Uncomfortable Afternoon

This past weekend was a busy one of running errands, going to bachelorette parties, beach skating, taking care of stuff around the house and having an early dinner with the in-laws.

It took us a few minutes to even decide which route to take to said dinner: surface streets or the freeway. The Dear Husband pondered surface streets while I said, Why the hell wouldn't we take the freeway? It's Sunday, it's warm, everyone will be at the beach, it'll be clear.


As soon as we got on the freeway, it was backed up.We quickly saw the reason. There was an accident in the two right lanes of the 10 where it transitions to the 405.  A car was parked sideways across the two lanes. As we crawled by, we saw a sport bike lying on its to another sport bike also lying on its side. DAMN. With the sideways-parked car, this looked ugly. The CHP wasn't on scene yet. No ambulances, no flashing lights, no sirens of any sort yet. There were people milling about in the middle of the blocked off lanes; some just looking, a couple people on cell phones. And then we saw the worst part: one of the motorcyclists was still splayed out on the scene, laying on the road.




He wasn't alive. It was in the way he lied there...crumpled clothes and ragamuffin limbs. He was wearing full gear, including a full-face helmet. He was lying on his stomach with his head turned to the side. The way his head was turned so far to the side looked wrong. A live neck wouldn't be able to do that with that helmet on.  After years of seeing horrific images of roadkill in my travels and being occasionally haunted by such memories, this just crowded everything else out.

The DH hopefully said, Maybe he's just unconscious.  I squinted at the dead man's face. No. I said. He's gone. I can tell by the way he's lying there...he's gone. The DH remained optimistic. He might be fine, we'll find out on our way back...if the scene is still closed, we'll know he died. If not, he's alive.

When things like this happen, the usual thought that first springs to mind is: What did the biker do to get himself killed? Especially with sport bikes. Some people call those riders "squids" because they do stupid things at high speeds and get themselves hurt or killed for their shenanigans. Two bikes down, a car parked sideways across the lanes...what the hell happened? The DH speculated for the rest of the trip. Maybe they did something stupid? Maybe a car cut in front of them? Maybe a car cut off one of the bikes, and the other came up to the car?

No matter what brand or type of motorcycle, I feel a type of kinship with most riders because the laws of physics are against us when there's a motorcycle involved. Well, except when we lanesplit. That's the joy of riding a bike in California. The flip side is we're always going to lose in a crash, no matter how minor because we're so exposed without that metal cage of a car around us to protect us on impact.

Needless to say, this event put us in a weirdly foul mood for dinner. We didn't explain why, we just soldiered through. On our way home, we saw the CHP on the taped off scene, taking measurements. The car and bikes were gone. The motorcyclist we saw was indeed dead and also had been taken away.

To go from reading articles, seeing news footage, or even seeing wreckage to visual fact on a fatal accident isn't in most people's experiences, despite those of us who live in big cities and therefore would be more likely to see this sort of thing to begin with. I've lived in LA for 20 years and have seen accidents of mangled metal, but if anyone was injured or whatnot, they were already gone by the time I've rolled by in the ensuing traffic backup.

How emergency workers, cops, firemen, and accident site cleanup crews do it day after day, year after year boggles my mind. How do they cope with such horror?

This obviously shook me up, to see the direct human cost. Especially since we didn't know what caused it.

We watched the late night news, hoping to hear what caused this mess, but a driveby shooting at a Taco Bell in Rialto took the top headlines. We looked at the CHP site and news station sites online, but to no avail. The CHP site merely listed when the call came in about the accident, what time the officers got there, what time the ambulance arrived on scene(fifty minutes after the accident was first reported, by the way.), etc.

It wasn't until Monday morning when I perused the LA Times website that I found a short blurb about the accident. The two bikers were weaving through the traffic, and one hit the other. A car was somehow involved, but the article didn't clearly explain how. Anyway, both bikers went flying through the air. One lived, the other died. Drinking was involved. The dead one was only 23 years old.

I won't lie when I sighed with a very slight sense of relief, because there wasn't any indication that a car purposely cut in front of the bikes as they whizzed through traffic. They seemed to be solely responsible for their own tragedy. That previous kinship and horror I felt for the riders were a little bit abated, because damn, it's so stupid to drink and ride. But a new fear and paranoia about riding settled into my brain; burrowing its way through all the good memories of riding.

Tuesday morning I decided to ride to work. I was terrified. But even though I hadn't directly been involved in the accident, mentally I had to get back on the motorcycle horse, even though it was just psychological.

I didn't ride fast. I didn't ride crazy. Well, contrary to popular belief, I've been mellowing out on the fast and furious lanesplitting and stuff since I joined derby. The direct physics lessons a full-contact sport has given me new respect for the damage I could do to myself if I didn't pay attention. And I got to work safely. I rode home with no incident, either.

Thank goodness.

But I continue to feel very unsettled. It's going to last for awhile.


Troy said...

Well, I just typed a bunch of thoughts spurred by your post, but they all seemed to fail in print.

So instead I'll just say thanks for sharing yours.

Irn Bruja said...

Thanks for this. I've been riding longer than skating, and derby had seemed to affect the way I rode. you just explained why.

Sorry to hear about the accident, seeing stuff like that is just horrible.