Hitting the road
Tue May 22 2007
I've been here a long time—in New York, I mean—and had only seen close calls of accidents involving cars and pedestrians. Until March, when while walking home one early evening, I saw a youngish woman get thrown halfway across Seventh Avenue—around 13th Street, while crossing that huge swath of concrete on a walk sign—by an SUV making a left-hand turn onto it. Besides the awful thud of the collision and the collective gasp of witnesses, what sticks most in my mind is the image of someone flying through the air, a moment as long and suspended and drawn out as gravity was just then. She landed with a skid, and jumped up suddenly, unnaturally, like a spring, and that was a result, I've learned since, of adrenaline, the survival instinct: Get out of the goddamn road or you could get killed all over again.
Well, she wasn't killed, thank goodness. And she was with friends, who'd surely be going with her to St. Vincent's when the ambulance came, even though it was just a block south. And the driver seemed as horror-struck as the rest of us, only more upset, as any perpetrator with a heart would be. I even think it was him who called 911. And that's why it didn't seem so necessary to stick around as a witness or a helping hand. I walked on home with that image stuck in my brain, which abated over time and then about disappeared until last Saturday, when the details changed but the same thing happened all over again.
It was the afternoon, at an intersection much closer to home: thud, fly, land, pop up, freak out. This man didn't die either, thankfully—he was older and heavy, and didn't travel as far as the woman had—but something was really wrong this time, wronger than getting whacked with an automobile: The driver, in a taxi with passengers in his backseat, seemed to want nothing more than for us all to just get out of the way so he could get going. Somebody sensed this and got in his way, in the middle of the street, right about where the man was struck, and called an ambulance while somewhat tenuously putting his arm out, as if to be able to vault himself over the cab should the guy in it start...driving. Then the driver, clearly really pissed off, started barking in my direction that the walk sign hadn't changed yet, and I said to him that I had seen it myself, what was he talking about, and for my son, who's six and saw the whole thing, this was all just too much. He asked that we walk home in such a way that he wouldn't have to see this vile man again (well, he didn't quite put it that way), and that's what we did.
Only when I got home I realized I'd done the wrong thing, at least if I stayed there. What if nobody else saw exactly what I did? I remembered back a year and a half, when all I'd seen of an accident, a hit-and-run, was its aftermath: a twisted body, already dead, covered with a sheet in the rain right outside the TONY offices in the dark. All weekend I wondered if there'd be someone missing at work on Monday who wore the shoes I'd seen that didn't quite get covered up. No one was. And no one seemed to know who she was—no media anything, let alone a frenzy. Someone got away with that. I went back to the intersection alone and saw the man who'd got hit getting wheeled into an ambulance with a collar around his neck. I was pretty sure I wasn't the first person to tell the cops what I'd seen, and pretty sure the guy would live. Hey man, are you okay?