Did you hear the one about the old man on the motorcycle?:
He hit me when I was on my bicycle and he ended up in a care home with a broken foot.
Wait a minute… that was supposed to be funny…
This time last year I was cycling through town, minding my own business, and running red lights like the locals do. Ach… when in Rome, I thought. I cycled straight across an intersection (against a red) and had almost made it half way across when a guy on a motorcycle, turning left into the road I was crossing, hit my back tire. Not too hard, just enough for my bike to kick out from under me. I held onto the handle bars with my left hand as my bike skidded sideways to the right. I leapt off the seat and landed on my feet like a gold-winning Olympic gymnast. Perfect 10s.
I turned around to check the guy who had hit me and watched as his bike tipped over. In the slowest motion you can imagine. I could hear the voice in my head yell, “NOOOOOOOOOO!” as he folded to the ground. His bike landed on his left leg.
The Dutch locals came running from every door, shadow, and crevice – as they do when there’s action to be seen. A faceless man, a good Samaritan, helped me to life the very heavy Kawasaki motorcycle – did I mention it was yellow? – off the rider who lay wiggling on the ground. He didn’t appear badly hurt. I asked him if he was ok. He struggled to get his helmet off. I asked again, starting to panic. He looked at me and waved his hands over his ears. He flopped around on the ground like a fish and finally managed pulled his helmet off.
There, lying before me was the littlest oldest man I had ever seen. With whispery grey hair, tiny round spectacles and two massive hearing aides. As he struggled to get up, the good Samaritan and I quickly offered him a hand.
The little old man had bright eyes and was actually smiling as he stood. I think he was trying to reassure me and the swarms who had gathered that he was ok. He shook off our arms like a man used to doing things by himself and tried to walk. He limped. His left leg hurt. He hobbled onto the curb and towards a nearby brick wall where he stopped and rested.
As I helped Samaritan wheel the motorcycle off the road another man on an emergency response bike appeared. Who had called him? I have no idea. He arrived about 3 minutes after the accident. He leapt off his bike and surveyed the scene. The old man was trying to “walk off” the pain. The emergency response guy cheerily started asking questions about what had happened. He seemed happy – almost chipper. This was weird. Wasn’t this serious? The old man lifted the left leg of his jeans and revealed a large bleeding goose egg on his shin. The reaity of the situation was settling in for me. I started to feel weepy.
Old man chatted to the emergency response guy in Dutch while I tried to figure out why everyone was so relaxed about the whole situation. “Blah blah blah, yeah my motorcycle’s got a bit of damage, blah blah, at least it’s a nice day for an accident, blah blah.” What the eff? I tried to stay calm but I have to confess I was feeling a bit faint.
The police arrived. They too were bubbly. They took statements. They looked at old man’s leg. They chatted with the Samaritan who offered to be a witness. The crowd dispersed. The police asked me about the red light. “Accidents don’t just happen. They happen because someone did something wrong.” I had run a red light. I knew it. I felt a bit sick. I signed the police report which stated the old man’s age: 82. 82 on a yellow Kawasaki racing motorcycle. Honestly.
An ambulance arrived and old man went inside to be looked over by the medics. There was a chance he would not have to go to the hospital. If his bump was just a bump, they would let him go on his way. While he was looked over by the medics, I took the time to call Adam. I explained that I had been in an accident. My voice was hoarse from trying to hold back the tears. Poor old man! Poor me!
5 minutes later, a medic reappeared and said that the old man was complaining of pain in his left foot. They would have to go to the hospital for x-rays. I was told I would be contacted by the old man to take care of the insurance claim. I was sent on my way. I felt deflated. As the police and ambulance drove away, I got on my bike – the back tire now slightly warped – and wobbled my way home.
The old man’s son called me two days later: his dad had a broken foot and he was now in a care home. I sent the old man flowers. It took 6 weeks to sort the insurance paperwork: almost 1200 Euros in damage. Yikes.
I got a call a week later from a city-run counseling agency to see how I was doing after the accident. Such a great idea to have this service! I told the nice lady that I was ok, that I felt bad for the old man, but the thing that puzzled me the most was how normal it all seemed to the locals: the chipper first response guy, the bubbly police, the bored medics, even the old man who – despite his broken foot – tried hard to make me, the foreigner, feel better. “Yes, this happens all the time” she said. “You’re lucky it wasn’t any worse. People die on their bikes every day.” It was true. There are makeshift memorials with flowers and photos on several street corners throughout the city. I’ve even seen four accidents on the busy road outside my own apartment. One which looked particularly bad.
I don’t run reds anymore.