By: Arnold Bustillo
Some are rich, and some are poor. Some are weak, and some are strong. Some are smart, and some are dumb. People can be classified in all sorts of ways, but if there is one thing I've learned as a pedestrian trying to navigate busy city streets on foot, it's that everyone behind the wheel of a car is the most selfish, self absorbed, self righteous asshole you will ever meet. At least for as long as they remain behind that wheel.
There's just something about sitting in the driver's seat of an automobile that makes people from all walks of life transform into vile, heartless fools. I've seen men in fancy suits and driving fancy cars threaten to cut the heads off other drivers. I've seen soccer moms in mini-vans hurl racist epithets across three lanes of highway. Being a pedestrian forces you to notice traffic in a way you don't notice traffic when you're in a car. Pedestrians have to observe everything, from every direction, because the stakes are just too high for us to let our guards down. Spend a few days walking back and forth to work, and I guarantee you'll be surprised by what you notice, too.
Even though I live in a big city with a robust public transit system, I usually elect to move around on foot. I'll take the bus when it rains, or if I head out the door late, but that's about it. Bus tickets are far cheaper than car maintenance, but even they can add up. Plus, walking to and from work has allowed me to cut my gym membership and still stay in shape. To say the least, walking fits into my life very well. I actually enjoy the act of walking, so long as I can stay on the sidewalk. It's crossing the street that really gets to me - because that's where all those damn car people happen to be.
Since I'm not a road cop who can pull over shitty drivers, and since I'm not in love with the idea of becoming a vigilante to pick off car people one by one, my mind has begrudgingly accepted my station in life as a pedestrian, and that I will forever be on the side of the equation with the least amount of power. But there was one day, not too long ago, when for a few brief moments, I managed to take back some of the power that all the car people had taken from me.
It happened late one night while I headed south along a four lane boulevard. Nothing on the boulevard was open at that time of night, but there were still a handful of cars moving up and down the lanes of traffic. Not far behind me was a freeway off-ramp. Even though I contemplated what I would eat for dinner when I arrived at home, and thought about what show I would watch on Netflix as I ate, I still had my wits about me, and paid attention to all my surroundings, which is to say that I walked with my head up and with my eyes and ears wide open. It was because I had my ears wide open that I heard from behind me the sound of tires screeching, followed by a loud bang that sounded distinctly like two cars knocking into each other, followed by more screeching. As the second instance of screeching became louder, and apparently more aggressive, I turned to see what was approaching, and I witnessed what appeared to be an act of freeway road rage that had spilled over onto the four lane boulevard.
Both drivers seemed to have their windows down, because I could hear what sounded like two men shouting back and forth at each other, hurling insults and threats at one another, as their two sedans squelched and bumped along the city street, completely disregarding the center dividing line, and taking up the entire center of the four lane road. From the middle of the sidewalk I could see a mini-van turn from one of the side streets directly into the path of the two battling sedans. It baffled me why the driver of the mini-van didn't just wait for the commotion to pass on by, but that's not how car people think.
That's not how selfish, self absorbed, self righteous car people think.
Rather than allowing the danger to pass by, the driver of the mini-van thought it was a good idea to roll down their own windows, and then pull directly into the path of danger, all while honking furiously, shouting unintelligibly, waving a middle finger in the air, and stepping on the gas.
The two battling sedans collided head-on into the side of the mini-van, and all three cars quickly came to a loud, thunderous stop. One of the men from the battling sedans had exited his car, and a woman of middle age stepped out of the mini-van, and they continued shouting back and forth as they walked in between the three stalled cars to ogle at the damage and point fingers of fault. The operator of the other battling sedan did not exit his car to engage in the shouting match which had unfolded. From my position on the sidewalk, it appeared as if that other sedan driver had been knocked unconscious, because he sat slumped and motionless in his driver’s seat. Neither the man or the woman shouting in the street bothered to check on the motionless driver.
The argument between the man and woman escalated quickly, and became more and more hostile. The man called the woman a bitch, and the woman threatened to have her husband cut the man's balls off. The shouting man called the woman's husband, who was not even at the scene, a pussy, and told her to get back in her van before threatening to slap the shit out of her. The two were so enthralled in their shouting match that neither of them noticed the speeding traffic exiting the freeway from the off ramp. Most of the traffic saw the collision up ahead and diverted down a side street, but that's the thing about car people - you can always count on a car person to take their eyes off the road at the most inappropriate time, and that's exactly what happened.
I turned my head from the shouting match between the man and the woman in the street just in time to watch a car speed down the off ramp and barrel at full speed into the tail end of the empty stalled sedan. This new collision caused the man who had been arguing in the street to become pinned between his own sedan and the side of the mini-van, and knocked the woman he had been arguing with on her ass, and unconscious.
More cars traveling down the off ramp diverted down side streets, but another car driven by another selfish, self absorbed, self righteous car person approached at full speed, and the collision of four cars quickly transformed it into a collision of five cars. This guy apparently was not wearing his seat belt, because he flew straight out of his windshield and smacked head first into the mini-van. I thought about going up to the drivers to offer first aid, but then decided against it. Would any of those car people stop to offer first aid if one of them had run into me? Probably not, I thought.
Just as I decided to keep my ass on the sidewalk, another car crashed full speed into the previous five. The total of crashed cars was now up to six.
More cars diverted off the boulevard to avoid the collision, but nobody stopped to see if any of the drivers needed help, and considering the selfish, self absorbed, and self righteous nature of car people, most of those other drivers probably didn't call 9-1-1 to report what they saw. They probably diverted around the collision scene, and figured that somebody else would call for help. Some might have even seen me standing there and assumed that I would be the one to call for help, which made me think that I should probably do something if I wasn't going to offer first aid.
I reached for my cell phone, to report what I had witnessed. I dialed all three numbers for 9-1-1, and needed only to press 'send' in order to have the nearest team of firefighters and ambulance drivers drop what they were doing in order to untangle the mangled mess that had appeared in the middle of the boulevard. As I looked out upon the handful of car people tossed and twisted like rag dolls, I thought about completing the call for help on my cell phone, I thought about doing literally the least I could do for the car people that were badly hurt in front of me, but then I came to the conclusion that they were not people - at least not real people. They were just car people. Selfish, self absorbed, and self righteous car people.
I did not complete the call to 9-1-1. Instead, I cancelled the function and put my phone back in my pocket. I did not offer first aid, I did not call for medics, and I did not walk away. I just stood there, on the sidewalk, soaking in the scene, the way a child might soak in a fireworks display. The wreckage in front of me was like my own macabre display of fireworks. Rather than booms of gunpowder and flashes of dancing lights, I enjoyed the sounds of metal crashing into metal, and visions of shimmering glass as it fractured and landed in the roadway.
For so long I had been at the mercy of those car people. For so long I had felt powerless against their disregard for the rules of the road, and powerless against their apathy for the safety of others, but in those moments of watching those car people run into each other, one after the other, and making the conscious decision to refuse to help, I felt some power of my own. It was a power I don't think I had ever felt as a pedestrian navigating the streets of the big city, and I liked the way it felt. It was a reclaiming of power not just for myself, but for pedestrians like me everywhere; for every person who's almost been run over in a crosswalk, and every person who’s ever been honked at for not walking through a crosswalk fast enough.
I stayed on that sidewalk and reveled in my new found power. As the muffled moans and sniffles of car people in semi-conscious pain lifted from the middle of the street and into my ears, my head began to sway back and forth, as if I was discovering some obscure genre of music for the very first time, and falling in love with it. The firefighters and paramedics eventually did arrive on scene – no thanks to me – and the symphony of agony which I had been enjoying was drawn to a close.
A cop eventually came around to where I was standing and pulled me out of the trance I had fallen into. He was rolling out yellow tape and asked if I had witnessed anything. I told him I hadn't. The whole mess was obviously caused by those two battling sedans, but the idea of all those car people tied up in litigation, arguing over who caused what, and who was at fault, made me all the happier.
At least two of them, the man who had been pinned between his sedan and the mini-van, and the man who flew threw his windshield into the side of the mini-van, assuming they managed to survive the night, would no doubt never be the same again. I don’t like to think of myself as someone who takes joy in the misfortune of others, but when the misfortune is directed at car people, I find it very easy to be apathetic.
I stepped away from the scene to continue my walk home, and my mind turned back to what I would make for dinner, and what show I would watch on Netflix as I ate.