Peril

Monday night after core class, I went for my usual three-mile run out to the high school and back. I stayed on the sidewalk of the main road (the same way we run on Tuesdays and Saturdays), but now that the time has changed, it’s dark. Street lights help, and I wore a light-colored shirt and three blinking lights–two on my shirt and one clipped to my shoe.

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But there’s quite a bit of traffic, so pedestrians have to be alert at the four-way stop and some of the side streets. As I began to cross one of those side streets, a car came from the opposite side street, across the main (four-lane divided) road in front of me, hitting the gas hard to make it through a break in traffic in the main road. Had I trusted the crosswalk, I would have run directly into this car’s path. A block later, as I reached a parking lot driveway (also with a crosswalk), two cars raced up to the stop sign and and rolled through it to turn right. So if you look at my Garmin graphs, you’ll see two spots where my pace suddenly dropped to a dead stop. Fortunately that’s because I avoided the cars instead of the alternative. 

I found out later that right around the same time I was dodging drivers on my run, a former student away at college was on foot near an intersection when he was hit by a car. He later died at the hospital. 

I learned of his death about half an hour before I was supposed to leave for my Tuesday night half-marathon training. I was shaken, devastated. I didn’t want it to be true, couldn’t believe it was true. But it was. This kid was funny, smart, and quirky. I remembered that his funky handwriting made it look like he misspelled his name, so sometimes I spelled it that way too. He visited my class a few years ago (former students do this sometimes after high school finals, when they get out of school early) and after charming them with his older-kid zen, he told my then-students they should listen to me. I saw him again this past summer–he was working at the movie theater near my house. The theater serves meals and drinks, and he was our server. He was the same funny kid, but grown up and responsible too. The kind of kid I hoped all of my students would turn out to be. His death was tragic and senseless. 

He was 20 years old and many years removed from my classroom. But my kids are always my kids.

As I drove to meet my group shortly after hearing this news, my brain was all over the place. I hoped some hard running would either distract me or help me make sense of it. Maybe both. In the end, I ran four 1.5-mile loops (plus .25 to and from the car) for 6.5 miles. I only knew it was 6.5 miles when I looked at my watch after I got home–I guess I ran it on autopilot. I’ve always wanted to learn how to zone out when I run, but damn, this wasn’t what I had in mind. 

I don’t know if he did everything right and the driver just didn’t see him, or if he took the bulletproof college student approach and was careless walking in the dark. But either way, in the physics equation that is human versus car, the car wins. And I can do everything right–blinking lights, bright/reflective clothing, low/no headphones, stay alert, don’t trust crosswalks–but still lose a battle with a car. Any of us can. 

So please take care out there. On foot, as a driver…take care out there. 

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