Friday, December 30, 2011

I needed a reminder.

Much of my Christmas week was spent in a rented Toyota Corolla driving to Michigan to visit family, including a trip “Up North” to see Gramma.  Car driving is a novelty these days since I haven’t owned a car in over a year, although I do drive a rental once a month or so when I travel for work.  Being car free and spending much of my time on my bicycle commuting around metro Hartford, I gather up a bit of vitriol directed at motorized road users.  Some of that vitriol spills into blog posts and discussions with friends.  With evil, heartless car drivers running over defenseless cyclists, pointed up by the recent deaths on Burnside Avenue, I’ve been spouting some pretty vehement stuff regarding distracted drivers.

Sometimes it takes something scary to bring you back to earth and remind you that crashes and road deaths can happen to even the smug, self-righteous bicycle commuter and supposedly enlightened transportation advocate.  The following episode reminded me, who should know better, that it’s critical while driving to minimize distractions and act in a predictable manner.  The reminder is important enough to me that I decided to capture it in a blog post and subject myself to the public scrutiny of my action and mea maxima culpa - sort of like locking myself into the pillory on the town commons, in electronic perpetuity.

I was heading across northern Ohio, and found myself off route due to missing an exit.  My GPS was on the blink and I was trying to figure out which way I should be heading.  It was a long driving day (~12 hrs) and adding an extra couple hours was not something I was keen on.  I had my Bluetooth earpiece in, and was answering some phone interview questions for of all things an article on the Burnside Avenue ghost bikes and distracted driving - yes the irony is painfully obvious.  This was not an appropriate time for me to be talking on the phone – and it will not happen again.

Upon hanging up, I noticed a rest area exit fast approaching – almost immediately on my right.  There are highway maps at rest stops and I needed to figure out if I was headed in the right direction.  I could just make it, but I was in the left lane of the two lane highway.  A quick glance in the mirror and I swung for the exit, a stupidly rash decision.  The quick glance wasn’t good enough, as there was a car in my blind spot in the right lane.  It was such a close call that the driver behind me had to take the rest area exit with me and rightly stopped and complained, “Are you having a baby or something?”  I couldn’t apologize profusely enough, and staggered with embarrassment into the building.  What an idiot! 

I made a conscious decision to sear this episode into my consciousness, and not bury it with other embarrassments that I have accumulated.  This was a personal "near miss" that fortunately didn't have major repercussions.  By writing it down and sharing it with others I hope to use this as an indelible life lesson that drives my driving decisions for the rest of my life.  One stupid decision or several compounding stupid decisions while driving a 2-ton missile can quickly result in severe injury or death.  Maybe my dirty driving laundry may even help others skip the hard lessons that distracted driving can bring.

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