in Me, Myself, and I

The accidental witness

There are no accidents.

That’s one of several things I learned during the Global Road Safety Seminar I was lucky enough to attend in Nairobi early this year.

Which is to say that yes, road crashes aren’t exactly accidents at all. To a greater or lesser degree, they are results of personal, cultural, and institutional neglect.

I was reminded of this several weeks ago when I witnessed a taxi run into a bike with a makeshift sidecar attached to it.

At that time, I was on a bike myself, heading toward the University of the Philippines academic oval, hoping to enjoy its exclusive lane for runners and cyclists.

It was at this time when I saw the cab.

It came from the opposite direction and made a quick left to execute a U-turn at an intersection. However, the turn wasn’t as neat and clean as the taxi driver expected.

As he crossed into the other lane, his right fender nosed right into the pedicab, which, at that time, was on the street’s shoulder, navigating a right turn.

Good thing the pedicab driver jumped off his bike seconds before the collision and promptly landed on his feet, like a cat making the most of its last remaining life. The taxi then stopped.

No one was hurt but the bike’s front wheel spokes were damaged, all because of someone irresponsible enough to eat while driving. The cab driver had food in one hand and a drink in the other.

I then decided to pull over right in front of the taxi’s left fender, just to block his path.

If the cab driver was going to flee from the scene, he was going to do so over the body of a heavyset, middle-aged curmudgeon who would later haunt him from the grave (probably). If the cabdriver didn’t make amends, I was also prepared to raise hell (something I’ve been supposedly notorious for [operative word: supposedly]).

I took that risk because, after all, I was an amateur cyclist myself.

As someone who has been biking to work for more than five years now, I knew what life was like on the road on two wheels, protected only by a brightly-colored helmet whose insides were stained with sweat and filled with unsavory odors.

Drivers of all manner of vehicles — public and private, big and small, old and new — have done practically everything to ruin my trip. They have nipped at my heels, blocked my path, and threatened to run me down.

In any case, this explains why on that cool Sunday evening, I decided to make our lives more interesting.

After all, I had nothing to lose — I was unemployed (let’s get to that subject next time around) and thus had more time on my hands than an employee placed in deep freeze. (Now that sounds familiar.)

To get the game going, my first move was to call out the driver for his absolute lack of courtesy.

In lieu of a proper apology following the run-in, all he could manage was to roll down his window, bring his left arm out, and wave to the person he almost maimed.

I went nuts.

Who did he think he was? Queen Elizabeth on a motorcade passing by a throng of well-wishers?

Immediately, and in a raised voice, I told him to get out of the cab and try his best to offer a sincere apology to his victim (who, at that time, was, understandably enough, in shock).

The cab driver relented.

He climbed out of his cab and, while snacking, murmured what looked to me was a sorry. To prove his sincerity, he offered anywhere from P50 to P70 — I don’t remember the amount anymore — to pay for the bike’s damaged front wheel.

No way, I said, suddenly shifting from my role as hostile witness to opposing counsel. If you want to get off easily, you have to give ten times that amount, I snarled. If not, I told him, we can call the police, waste time doing paperwork, and eat up whatever hours were left on his shift.

He refused, more out of pride than concern for his personal welfare.

So I let him have it.

I unleashed my inner Duterte and caused a minor commotion by hurling a few insults never heard before, not even in some famous presidential speeches.

After several exchanges, security personnel were forced to call in the police. They were not entertained by the escalating impromptu debate.

Minutes after the arrival of the authorities, our protagonist — who mustered the moral (cough cough) strength to volunteer as witness — rode his bike to the police station. He then issued a statement with very little fanfare and tons of self-importance.

About an hour and a half later, a settlement was reached with the help of the police. It was worth P130, an amount ten pesos more than the repair of the bike spokes, Pedro, the aggrieved party, told me.

He then thanked me and rushed off to deliver dinner — a plastic bag of spaghetti — for a relative who was working late that night at the university.

Meanwhile, the taxi driver got off lightly after getting a lecture from the office in charge of the case. “Good evening,” he told me in a sing-song voice as he ran out of the station and into his cab.

I got the impression that he was happier — and more relieved — than I was.

As for myself, I spent the next fifteen minutes waiting for my dead phone to come to life. It ran out of juice the minute I arrived at the scene. Now, there’s a lesson in there somewhere. I just can’t put my finger on it.

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