accidents en masse

I took the 720 into campus today – all well and good until just west of Beverly Glen, when traffic slowed to a crawl. There was a scrum of fire engines on the south side of Wilshire, and a line of traffic stretching west along Wilshire. The driver eventually let us off a couple blocks shy of Westwood, and I slipped onto my bike and rode the gutter until I could turn right on Glendon. As I did, though, I happened to turn and look through the engines.

One beige SUV had its front fender smashed in. Another smaller car might have been on its side or flipped over, its front almost sheared off. It was on the curb or against the curb or even as far as the sidewalk. There may have been another car still obscured by the trucks. No bodies, and my memory may even now be playing tricks on me, but there a line of police cars shunting traffic off of Wilshire, and an almost bizzarre quiet. I didn’t linger and quickly put the scene behind me.

I mention it because a conversation about the relationship between driving and sight came up today. In a lot of ways, it’s probably a tangential topic, this relationship between ways of seeing and the positions from which we see. This is, in some ways, not a new question for me, but still a pressing one. How does being on a bike impact the way in which we see the city, and is it necessarily for the better? One of the key issues that has to be addressed in talking about bikes, I think, is the numbers in which we ride. As a solitary individual, my rights, my privilege, are fairly abridged, simply by virtue of being solitary. But in taking to the streets in numbers, be it in Critical Mass or in the ongoing protests against Prop 8, you regain a certain prerogative of action. You can do in a way once not possible.

As to how all of that links to the scene of the accident at Glendon and Wilshire this morning, perhaps this: One of the luxuries, the fleeting joys, of being among others in common cause is the sense of safety it imparts. Driving among others might impart something of that, a certainty of safety in spite of an uncertain world (one need only think of the appeal of SUVs); what accidents like today remind one is that in spite of that solidarity, catastrophe is sudden. A brief line from the radio this morning (I think a Kenneth Turan review on NPR): Plan for life of a hundred years, but live as though today might be your last.

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