Picture this: I had just turned onto a two-lane highway and had gradually accelerated to meet the 60 mph speed limit. I had just gotten off from a 6 hour shift at work. My sense of euphoria set my plans for the afternoon: a day under the large tree in my yard with a large pillow and blanket, my bug repellant, a novel I just bought, and a jumbo jug of iced lemonade.
I was driving and marveling in my perfect plans when I noticed a van in the distance ahead moving slowly – half on the shoulder, half on the road – driving with its hazard lights flashing. I smoothly shifted over to the next lane, giving it enough room to merge back onto the highway. I was still approaching when I noticed it had not picked speed. As I got closer at a steady speed, a man in a wheelchair rolled from the front of the van headed into my path. My eyes widened. I clasped the steering wheel with both hands and slammed on the brakes. The front end of my SUV screeched to a several-hundred feet halt as it felt like the back end was going to rise in the air. With my eyes plastered on this man sitting in a wheelchair in my path, I had veered the steering wheel toward the shoulder as my vehicle was trying to stop.
Let me tell you, there is a part of the subconscious brain that measures depth perception while driving. My swerve to the right was a sign that it did not perceive enough stopping room. The fate of the collision was in the hands of my Nissan. All I could do was hold my position and beg the question, “am I going to hit him?” Fortunately, the interplay of the performing parts (steering wheels, brakes, tires, and alignment) pulled it off. I didn’t hit him.
When my vehicle came to a stop, I found myself catercornered on the shoulder and the road. The man (who looked to be in his late forties) had paused in the middle of the road and was looking at me. Not once did he flinch or panic. There was obviously something wrong with him. I looked at him as he nonchalantly resumed manually rolling his wheelchair toward the shoulder. I straightened my car on the shoulder behind him. When I looked in my rear view mirror, there were a line of cars that had also come to a stop. Thank God none of them rammed into me.
I sat there watching the man, and I looked up at the van that had been behind him. The people inside were gesturing their apologies by anxiously waving at me. What the hell was going on? How the hell did he get on this part of the highway in a wheelchair? Who the hell would let somebody in a wheelchair out on the highway? (Notice that the word ‘hell’ comes in handy in these type road situations). There was no crossroad that he could have used, and the shoulder dips down levy style from the nearby access roads. The van got in front of me and got alongside wheelchair man, between him and the highway.
It occurred to me that this man was deliberately trying to get into traffic, and the van was trying to block him. It didn’t seem as if he was with them — no one ever got out of the van. They were blocking him when I first noticed the van driving slowly with the hazards on. But somehow, he managed to get in front of them. Right before I was about to pass them.
What the people in the van didn’t realize was that it was counterintuitive to block him, because it blocked him from being visualized by oncoming traffic – ME!
I didn’t dare get out of my car. I sat there thinking. I didn’t hit him. So I can leave. I don’t have to sit here. It wouldn’t be a hit-and-run, right? Again, I didn’t hit him. So . . . I am free to go.
I looked in my rear view mirror again, and waited to merge back onto traffic.
Lessons Learned: As my Dad once instructed: Don’t Take Your Eyes Off the Road.
1. If you see that a car or van has suspiciously slowed down, watch it carefully, and don’t go speeding past it. There may be something going on that you cannot yet see.
2. As a matter of fact, be suspicious of anything that disrupts the flow of traffic.
3. Watch carefully any vehicle that is pulled onto the side of the road. (Anyone could emerge without warning onto the road).
4. Do not let anything distract your attention from the road, esp. cellphones. (Fortunately, I was not doing that.)
WoRD of tHe DaY
Hobson’s Choice (this is one of my favorite terms!)
Main Entry:Hob•son’s choice
Etymology:Thomas Hobson *1631 English liveryman, who required every customer to take the horse nearest the door
: an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative
taken from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary