October 24th, on a bright and mild Monday morning, on my way to the Community College down a major traffic artery on my scooter, a 29-year old woman chose to ignore my signals of wanting to make a move and change lanes.
First I heard a woman's voice scream, then I felt a bump from behind that made me lose my balance. Next, I found myself splattered out flat on the street, propelled over my scooter, stunned, terrified and in shock. The first impact had been my helmet hitting the pavement sending a jolt back in to my spine.
I was then and I am still fully aware of how vulnerable I am, not just riding a scooter, same would go for attempting to cross streets while walking with dogs and drivers simply not giving us the right-of-way. I am vulnerable because of my age, my lack of flexibility and the accumulation of stress in my body, besides the lack of financial and social resources, including proper insurance. While I do have insurance, the damage to my scooter and my own physical self were not covered. They would have been if the driver had fled the scene!
I had turned my head to check the lanes in the back of me. The two lanes behind me had been clear. No cars in close range only three cars way back that had just crossed the traffic lights, far on the other end of the block I had been on. Splattered out on the pavement, I looked to check on those cars to notice that quick acting strangers already had blocked off traffic thankfully. Two strangers I believe helped me to get up and hobble over to the curb. My left knee hurt and greatly concerned me, but I was able to move. My scooter was on its side bleeding fuel. I was hit from the back, my basket clearly shows this. I did not sideswipe the car as later the cop would claim. The driver of the car bumped ME from behind. I did not sideswipe her car with the basket mounted on the back of my scooter as the cop later claimed.
First responders in a fire truck happened to notice the accident in passing and stopped. Able to walk, sore, but not in excruciating pain, I refused medical help or a ride to the hospital only asked for something to whip up the blood from my left pinky. Someone called the police, a cop appeared on the scene maybe 20 minutes later. He talked to the driver of the car then gave ME a ticket. My supposed violation "DRIVING ON STREETS LANED FOR TRAFFIC" what the fuck! What does that mean? The cop would not elaborate, invited me to contest the ticket in court. Well, that is what I did a month later. I pleaded NOT GUILTY!
How did this happen? I have been riding in traffic on two wheels for half a century, starting at the tender age of 10 riding my bike on streets to school and through heavy traffic in mid-town of the largest city in Switzerland, Zürich. I was maybe 12 when I fell in my attempt to follow my Mom on her bike through an intersection where my bike got caught in a track for our trams. I fell then, was stunned then, and I still remember it clearly half a century later. My left leg was in a cast and I walked on crutches for about 6 weeks.
I loved biking in Amsterdam especially, but also New York and San Francisco. Now getting around on my bike in Santa Fe is a whole different matter. Santa Fe's culture of drivers paying little to no attention to signals and signages makes for a major challenge in negotiating traffic. I was fully aware of this when I first started riding a scooter in Santa Fe 10 years ago. But here in the American Southwest, we have the perfect climate for riding on two wheels, sunny, dry and temperate most often. Riding a scooter is fun and a whole lot cheaper than my ancient gas-guzzling VW van. $2 fills my tank and may last me for a week. While my first scooter, a Honda Elite 250 cc, was heavy and a challenge for me to handle, my current Genuine Buddy 125 cc is a breeze, so easy to maneuver it is pure joy. My point is I am not an incompetent, dare-devil senior who takes up a hobby thinking that makes them feel like they might be young again, makes them take stupid chances that may get them into trouble. I read that seniors have a high injury rate for that reason. I may have white hair, but I did not have a 'senior moment' either, I did not space out or become inattentive.
For the first 6 weeks, I laid in bed mainly, left leg elevated and iced, getting up as little as possible, going through a whole tube of Arnica gel in one week only. Walks with dogs were minimal. The hyper energy of both of my pups on lead, tugging here and there, made walks very stressful. A wrong move might create serious damage, tear tissues that may require expensive medical attention. I felt very vulnerable as if I were hobbling on eggs. I would start to feel better, only to feel worse again due to aching inflammation in my leg especially during nights. Concrete floors I learned were now hard on me. The pain in my knee has been my main concern. I still can not fully bend it which makes sitting down or putting on a sock, but especially boots challenging. Reminder, cut toe nails often enough! I also hurt my left hand. It still is swollen some, aches and I still have a lack of strength that shows in my being challenged holding a pot when doing the dishes. I have no idea yet what this may mean to my ability to practice my profession of 3 decades in the future. As a massage therapist I depend on the strength in my arms and hands. A huge ugly bruise on my left upper arm did not bother me a bit, neither was I left with any pain from my chest crashing into the ground. I assume because I had been going slow approaching red lights. The impact on my head when hitting the pavement seemed to have had no lasting effect on my spine. It was the first day in the season I had worn a woolen ski mask under my helmet which must have been a blessing. With the new year, I have been pleased to notice another level of ease yet in my walking. I still hobble, but I move forward a bit faster and smoother, while most of the aches during the nights have subsided.
The day before this accident I had been up on the mountain with my pups hiking with surprising ease after weeks of debilitating sciatic pain that made straightening my back upon rising a major challenge. That day all that pain somehow had dissolved and I had hiked through the woods with a renewed freedom and endurance. Time will only tell if I will be able to go again on such long, rejuvenating walks in the woods. Now, I am truly grateful that the impact of this accident did not compound on that earlier misalignment. I do know that I am truly lucky and things could have been a whole lot worse.
Only when I did go back to the scene of the crime, reluctantly, the day before my pre-trial hearing on January 3. did it dawn on me on how this accident may have happened. Until then I just could not comprehend how a car had suddenly gotten so close. How did I not see it coming? I was approaching a major intersection (Cerrillos Street/ St. Michael's Drive) where my 2-lane street was about to turn into 4 lanes. I now seem to remember a car on a side street waiting to enter the traffic that actually prompted my concern of a busy right lane and my wanting to change one lane over. I turned my head, looked back assured myself of the two lanes behind me, looked forward as I just about passed that side street and gotten to the 4 lane section, slowing down for the traffic light ahead of me. I bet that car I had spotted on that side street was driven by that woman who sought to merge the far left lane quickly. She admitted to me that she had noticed my intent to make a move, but she failed to give me my right of way and to keep a safe distance but attempted to quickly pass by me.
January 3rd, after 3 hours in court, the first one in, and the last one out, my ticket got dismissed. After 10 weeks of mulling things over, arguing my case in my head, I never even got sworn in and I was never given a chance to make my case in front of the judge. I did argue with the cop who claimed I sideswiped the car and failed to check the lane on my left, due to inattentiveness, hah! He cited evidence on her car, I asked how his assumptions jived with evidence on my scooter. Officer Trujillo had no answers. At first, he suggested a plea but then pressed on for dismissal of all charges. Yep, my ticket got dismissed without prejudice with no fine, and no record!
But also no compensation for the stress of one cop's wrong assessment of supposed evidence and one woman's failure to yield. While I should have felt immediate relief, maybe even elation, I felt confused about my mix of emotions. I should have felt grateful, this accident could have been so much worse. Gratitude though has never been my forte. Being accused wrongly won over my emotional landscape. Such has happened to me too often. So since I could not argue my case in court, I made an attempt to do so here.