Article is reprinted from Sardines Are Only Packed Once: The Whine and the Crash
Riding east on Barnes Road on the 20 Burnside in December just after
dark, I'm nervous. Barnes is snaking down a hill and the the bus is
picking up speed on the wet pavement as the driver makes it whine. The
bus feels too big for the lane.
Bursts of commuters zip by to the left,
an arm's length away. I try put it out of my head, the crash. It's silly
to think about a bad moment that will probably never come. Whether we
hit a car or a tree it would be bad, yet at no more than 35 or 40 miles
an hour and the driver taking some evasive action, the trauma should be
survivable. And the crash will transform my life in a way that I can't
spin as actually good. Pain, blood, broken bones or deep lacerations,
shock, lying out on the miserable freezing asphalt in muck and gravel
waiting for an ambulance. These stupid thoughts keep pushing into the
The nightly commute down Barnes is loaded with these uneasy thoughts. My
heart rate climbs. To keep the old ticker in check, I read. I write. I
breathe deeply. I remember the odds are with me. The heartbeat plateaus
at a wakeful pace.
Not long ago, I had an accident on this very line. I boarded in front of
my building across the street from Providence St. Vincent and left the
emergency room behind. The 20 bus is usually pretty empty at this point,
but that night it was pretty full. I saw that one of the cozy corner
seats in the very back was vacant, and headed there.
As you may know, some of the newer buses have two levels, with a couple
of steps leading up to the back mezzanine. This was one of those. As I
stepped up, the bus surged forward, i.e., opposite the direction I was
walking, executing a perfect judo throw on me. I reached ahead to catch
myself and the extended thumb of my reaching right hand, bearing most of
my weight, caught on a vertical support pole and bent backwards, hard.
This saved my face from floor damage. But it really hurt. I yelled
something and went to my knees.
Several people asked if I was all right, including the driver, who asked
more than once. I got up and walked to the seat in the back corner
saying, "I'm okay." several times.
I curled over in the seat, trying inch by inch to accept and deal with
the pain. The driver asked again and again I lied. "It hurts but I'm
I was pouring sweat. For such a short fall, the pain was shockingly bad.
It was worse than the cat bite last year, worse than the knee in the
groin in eighth grade, worse than the broken nose from a Tae Kwon Do
kick that ended my quest for a black belt. God, I hope it doesn't hurt
like this when I die.
For the next half hour, until disembarking at Cesar Chavez, I gently,
gently manipulated the thumb, deciding whether to skip the hospital. The
digit would move through about a quarter of its range, with an
unpredictable stab, stab, stab, like a toothache. I could close the hand
half way. A bruise, which had discolored the hand, stopped spreading.
So did the swelling.
The thought of home was soothing, the thought of an emergency room sad, so I went home.
I lived. The injury was slow to heal but it did. Advil at bedtime helped. Now, months later, it's just a story without a middle.