This morning, I was introduced to my new hero.
I was waiting for the bus, staring at the sidewalk, thinking about my wretched life and insurmountable financial problems, and how I have to live in Los Angeles where the weather is always 72 degrees, and how if it were up to me the world would be very different and how I know for a fact that if everyone just did exactly as I suggested we would all be a lot happier and there would be only peace and prosperity and brotherhood for all, and how the hell did I get stuck with a wife and family who love me, when suddenly ...
... a bicyclist - a girl in green, on a green bicycle - rode past and ...
... WHAM! hit the asphalt!
As if her bike was a pissed-off horse, or camel, the bike upended and threw her down hard into the middle of the lane.
I stared for a second or two. Not as stunned as she was. But pretty stunned. I think I was waiting for the next car to flatten her and her bike and finish the job. "What is that going to be like?" I almost wondered, "when the next car comes. This I gotta see."
She started to get up.
I peeked out into the road to see if the coup de grace auto was approaching. It wasn't. Traffic, seeing the accident, had slowed, watching, waiting.
The girl picked up her bike and her helmet and her packed-full backpack and one of her wide-size slip-on shoes and her granola-hip handbag, all of which had found different touch-down points in the road. And she drug them all over to the sidewalk.
(I should say "she dragged them", but it doesn't quite capture it. I must stick with "she drug them")
She drug them all over to the sidewalk.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
She didn't answer. Or if she did, I didn't hear her.
Her face was white and red with upset. A heavy belly peeked out from under her green top. Did she have on a green headband?
She leaned her bike against the graffiti-scratched bus stop bench and commenced recovery of the bike's "black box", opening her investigation into the cause of the tragic downing of this mode of transportation so essential to our American way of life.
Her knuckles and elbow were painted with mauve scrapes, themselves still too shocked to begin bleeding. I imagined her knees and legs were the same.
"Are you alright?" I asked again.
"Yeah," she answered, not looking up, limbs trembling.
Next Thursday, May 18 is Ride Your Bike To Work Day
. My wife told me that last night.
I thought to myself: "Should I take a picture?" I never go anywhere without a camera.
But I felt too much sympathy for her. Sometimes symphathy can induce a photographer to start shooting like Rambo. But not in this case. Not for me. I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool photojournalist. I wish I had that singleness of purpose, but I don't.
Her investigation revealed the following:
She had been wearing a lightweight green scarf. The had scarf descended into the spokes of the front wheel. And that, as they say, was that.
She inspected the scarf, wound and tightly coiled round the front tire and spokes like a well-ensconced python.
I wondered if anyone had a knife or scissors on them. Should I ask? Should I go up to a stranger on the bus stop line and ask: "Do you have a knife on you? Or scissors? Or some kind of blade?"
And if I did find one, would it be wise to approach this traumatized girl with gleaming sharpened steel in my fist?
I stayed still.
She worked meticulously, coaxing, unknotting the scarf from the spokes and wheel. I would have said it couldn't be done. But she did it.
I didn't see the moment when the grappling prehensile tailtip of scarf at last gave up its hold. I had been trying to look away most of the time. And as I looked away I would find myself looking back, wondering if I should help. Wondering what I could possibly do to help. Wondering what I would want. What would I want if I were in her slip-on shoes? I would want to be left alone, that's what I would want. I thought I might suggest to her that the next bus could convey her down the street if she couldn't get the bike back in working order. I imagined myself - practiced it in my head - asking the bus driver on her behalf to give her a ride down to wherever she was headed.
A healthy cluster of commuters had gathered at the bus stop, all of them putting much effort into not watching her.
The green scarf was put away.
The bike chain had jumped the tracks as well. She stared at it. She touched it, as if to wake it up, as if to see if it was still breathing.
From her backpack she produced a folded sheet of paper with printing on it that could have come from the packaging of some recently purchased product. She consulted the page, and what was written there was helpful. Putting the bike on end, she managed to get the chain back on track.
Her scrapes were bright red now with newly seeping blood.
She dabbed at them with some crumpled tissue paper from her backpack. I heard her sniff too. She might have wiped her nose or her eyes. She deposited the tissue paper into an overflowing bus stop trash can.
I prepared to say to her, as she readied herself to get back on the bike: "You're going to have a great day from now on."
But I didn't say anything.
I watched her strap on her helmet. Watched her hoist on her heavy backpack. Watched her pull up her too-long green skirt so she could mount the bicycle seat.
And she rode off.
I waited for the bus.
The bus came.
I got on and didn't have to pay. An orange-red covering over the fee accepting robot seated at the driver's right hand declared technical problems, or perhaps a sudden socialist turn amongst the bus drivers union.
I got the camera ready.
And when we zipped past the girl in green, who was waiting at a corner, I got off a single shot through the window.
Too late. I missed her. I got a picture of the road just in front of her instead.