So it’s a gorgeous autumn morning and I’m riding east along Queen Street, having just made a side trip to one of my favourite stores on the way to the office. I’m approaching a green light at York Street, with pretty much no other traffic around. There’s a westbound car at York, the driver signalling a left turn and waiting to turn south onto York. The car is motionless and there’s no sign that the driver is going to do anything other than wait for the one car, three pedestrians, and one cyclist (that would be me) to clear the intersection before turning. I continue in my straight line, and just as I reach the intersection, he decides that he’s going to make a run for it and guns the engine, leaping into the intersection.
At this point, he’s turning straight into me and whether I keep going or screech to a halt, slow down or speed up, there’s nothing I can do; if he continues, he’s going to hit me broadside. At the last second, he slams on his brakes, the front of his car diving deep down from the inertia. He stops about two feet away from my bike. He’s just accelerated hard from a standing stop across almost two lanes of road straight at me before realizing that he’s about to hit me. I come to a stop a bit further down the road, just out of his way should he start up again. I’m upset, but more bewildered than angry. I look at the driver and he looks back, a little sheepish. One of the pedestrians in the intersection is almost right behind me, next in line to be hit had the driver continued on his path. The other two pedestrians are standing on the corner looking shocked at what they’ve just witnessed.
The driver puts his palm up in a conciliatory gesture and rolls down the window to say something to me, looking more concerned than angry. “I saw you.” What? You saw me? I was expecting “Sorry,” or “My bad,” or even, “Get off the road.” But “I saw you”? It seems like such an odd thing to say. “Hey, I know I accelerated straight at you and came within a whisker of T-boning you and sending you flying across the road on this beautiful day, but no worries mate, I knew you were there.”
“Really?” Bewildered, it’s the only response I can come up with. I say it in the same tone I may use if someone tells me that the Earth is flat or the Leafs are going to win the Cup this year; we both know that you’re just bullshitting me, but there’s always that small chance that you actually believe what you’re saying.
“Yes, I saw you,” he repeats.
“It didn’t seem like you saw me.”
“Is that why you drove straight at me?”
At this point, the peculiar assertion turns a little nasty. “If I hadn’t seen you, you’d be flat on the ground now. Are you on the ground?” His demeanor changes from misguided cover-your-ass to misplaced aggression. He’s not blaming me so much as telling me that I’m lucky he’s not a psychopath. It’s in his tone as much as his words. He begins inching forward again. Wonderful thing about cars; moving forward can be both fight and flight.
The pedestrian standing behind me pipes up at this point. “You did not see him.”
“Yes I did. I didn’t hit him, did I? If I’d hit him, he’d be lying on the street.” At this point, the penny drops. When he says that he saw me, he means that he woke up halfway through his turn and managed to recover just in time. Avoiding a collision set into motion by your actions is as good as not setting it into motion in the first place. I call this Dodge’s Theory of Driving Relativity: From any given observer’s frame of reference (most commonly the driver’s seat of an automobile), nothing that happens outside that frame is your fault. As long as contact between your frame of reference and someone else’s frame of reference is indirect (“a close call”) rather than a direct hit, you are absolved of responsibility for anything that follows.
You can be the hero who defuses the bomb, even if you’re the one who planted it in the first place.
The pedestrian continues arguing with him. The two pedestrians on the corner have graduated from shock to amusement. No one is hurt, and they’re laughing and shaking their heads as the driver continues arguing with the pedestrian that he was in the right. As for me, is it time for fight or flight? Neither. It’s too nice a day to argue with a brick wall and it’s obvious that nothing I can say will change the version of the story that the driver will be telling at the office this afternoon. So I’m just going to shrug my shoulders and continue on my way. “I saw you,” eh? What happened to, “I’m sorry”?
People reflexively say that they’re sorry over so many little things: sorry I have to slip past you in the supermarket aisle, sorry I’m trying to get through the same door as you, sorry that you’re trying to get on the elevator at the same time that I’m getting off the elevator, sorry you stepped on my toes while walking backwards (I must have been in your way), sorry we did a little two-step on the sidewalk while trying to figure out how to pass, sorry I don’t have exact change, sorry that I’m paying with pennnies, sorry, sorry, sorry. Why is sorry so difficult for the things that really matter?