Pedestrians have Rights, Right?

11 Sep

I was a curious kid.  One day when I was little and in the car with my mom, I wondered aloud how all the port-o-potties got moved from place to place.  I knew they were temporary, but they always seemed to appear as if by magic.  More than likely, I figured to myself, they were moved around by cover of night because, really, who would want to be caught moving toilets around.  Embarrassing!  No more than 10 minutes went by when, in the right lane of a 2-lane local street, a pick-up truck lugging 3 port-o-potties in its bed went lumbering by.  Mystery solved.  It’s strange how things like that happen.  You puzzle something and <BAM> the world responds!  Likely it’s just that once a thought enters your head it awakens some passive awareness and you’re more likely to notice anything with relevance to that thought.  But then again, I am pretty sure whether or not I wondered about the method of transportation of port-o-potties I would have noticed 3 of them traveling by car down the street because, to me as a 9-year-old kid and also to me now, that’s hilariously funny.

This sort of precipitous presentation of information happens all the time.  For a recent example, fast-forward to yesterday.  I headed out for a run on the first real fall-esque day of 2012, feeling sad about the end of summer and the inevitability of fall turning to winter, and also enjoying the fact that I could, painlessly, go out for a run at 3:30 in the afternoon and return home only slightly wet with sweat, with a little water still left in my handheld bottle.  I also spent the majority of the run from my house to the park thinking about an incident that had occurred at work the day before when an especially problematic (read:  anti-semitic, racist piece of shit) customer called me a cunt about 15 times.  I was thinking about how I could write a blog post not about the experience but about the word itself.  What would be my angle?  Would I compare it to other words that drip with hatred and anger and violence?  Would I contemplate the use of gendered insults to convey ideas of power?  I was running through questions and ideas in my mind as I crossed 7th avenue near 16th street.  Seeing I had the light, I cut the corner a little in order to make it into the crosswalk.  There were no cars coming.  No bikes.  And then, a car came speeding down 16th street to make a left onto 7th, almost cutting me off, almost hitting me.  I was far enough into the intersection that the driver was forced to stop but I looked at him and lifted my arms, angrily cocking my head to the side as if to say, helloooooo?  He rolled down his window and screamed out the window

Get in the crosswalk, you prissy bitch!

And he drove off.  First of all, I was in the crosswalk. Second of all, I had the light.  And third of all, why’d he have to go there?  Clearly he was an angry dude and, in order to cool myself off, I tried to focus on the mantra that I always focus on in times like these:  at least I’m not that guy.  I think about how awful it must be to go through life that angry, temper flaring at the drop of a hat, feeling so put upon and at the same time so entitled.  It must be hard.  At least, I thought to myself, I don’t automatically assume the worst of people and yell at them at even the slightest imposition on the forward-moving trajectory of my day.  At least I won’t give myself a heart attack within 10 years.  And then I thought about the reality of the situation:  him in car, angry, me on foot, also angry.  Him controlling 4 tons of steel, me controlling very light running shoes and a 12 oz water bottle, good for throwing.  I think he probably wins.  But then I thought to myself, there are witnesses.  I am in the right.*  If something were to have happened, if he were to have hit me, he would be in the wrong, not me, because I had the light.    The law would be on my side.  Right?  Maybe not.  Today the answer came in the form of this article in the New York Times.

Apparently the New York City Police Department has an Accident Investigation Squad slated with investigating all manner of traffic accidents, both fatal and nonfatal.  That’s great.  The problem is there are only 20 people in the Squad.  Slightly less great.  And those 20 people, last year, were meant to investigate all 3,000 nonfatal accidents that occurred in the city last year.  Significantly less great.  In reality they really only investigate when a victim is considered likely to die.  So I guess if I got hit but it wasn’t life-threatening the angry man would get away scot-free? Hrm.  Also, “I didn’t see her” is a credible excuse in New York state. (I am left to wonder whether “I didn’t see the prissy bitch” would also fall under this theme.) According to Streetsblog.org, in many cases when drivers hit a pedestrian or cyclist and flee the scene, no charges are ever brought against them.  Not even a charge of leaving the scene of the crime.  I mean, I have never hit a person before but I have hit a squirrel and I noticed.  There was a bump.  I am unclear as to how you can hit a person and not realize you have hit something.  If I felt a person-sized bump under my tires I would immediately stop driving, pull over, try to keep myself from pissing my pants, and walk over to see what it was, hoping against hope that it was a garbage bag or a rolled up carpet, discarded on the side of the road.  In the case of Roxana Buta, a young woman whose death is highlighted in the aforementioned NY Times article, the driver of the DOT dump truck that killed her (and left the scene, it was all caught on video) was identified and, as of yet, no charges have been brought against him.  If past cases are any indication, charges will never be brought.  Now this is not to say that the knowledge of having killed someone isn’t punishment enough.  It isn’t to say that this man doesn’t feel remorse.  It clearly wasn’t intentional.  He couldn’t have known she would be there.  Maybe he really didn’t see her.  What I am trying to say is that, in my initial breakdown of my experience, I was wrong, the law is not on my side.  Apparently, as so often is the case, the onus to protect oneself lies in the hands of the party least able to do so.  Up against a car I am no match.  Up against a car driven by a man with an anger-management problem and a clear ax to grind, I am even less of one.  If he had hit me, I would have gone down in his memory as the prissy bitch who got in the way of the progress of his day.  And by the way, I am by no stretch of the imagination prissy.

*And yes, if you are wondering, I was still running at this point in the thought-process and was probably about 1/2 mile into the park loop.  I was also, completely absurdly, imagining what would happen if he was really angry and chased me down in the park and punched me really hard in the face, breaking my cheek bone and maybe even my jaw.  Then I would have a black eye and I would have to get a wire in my face and it would be terrible.  How would I work?  How would I finish my thesis?  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how the mind of Rebekah works.

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