I had to drive through downtown Vancouver, recently. Steady rain turned the roads into pools of shiny blackness between gaudy reflections of neon signs.
On just such a night, 55 years ago, I hit a pedestrian. The memory came back vividly.
I was going to a party. It must have been a costume party, because I was wearing a grass skirt. As I made a left turn, I glimpsed a police car in the lane on my right. I glanced over for barely a second—an automatic reflex for teenage drivers.
The girl beside me screamed, “Jim! Look out!”
I slammed on the brakes. But it wasn’t soon enough. One instant, a startled man transfixed by my headlights stared back at me. The next, he was gone.
I leaped out of the car. I helped him up off the pavement.
The cop car had made a U-turn and parked beside me.
The cop wanted to see my driver’s licence.
Where, in a grass skirt, does one carry a wallet?
I must have given my wallet, with the tickets for the event, to the girl to carry in her purse. Because the cop didn’t arrest me. But he did give me a ticket for failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian.
The guy I hit didn’t want to press charges. He was more concerned that the liquor store down the block would close in 10 minutes.
He hobbled off.
I went to see him two days later. He lived in a shabby boarding house, about 10 blocks away. He had managed to walk that far after the accident.
He lay on his bed, obviously in pain. I asked if I could do anything for him. He wanted me to go buy him a bottle. I said I couldn’t—I wasn’t old enough yet.
“Then you’re no use to me, kid,” he said, and rolled over to face the wall.
So I left.
All those memories flooded back as I drove downtown, and made me particularly conscious of the pedestrians around me. I was astounded at the disregard that they showed for their own safety.
They walked in groups, chattering animatedly. They wore dark clothes. They pulled hoodies up over their heads, cutting off their peripheral vision. Or they lurked behind open umbrellas. Many had earphones stuffed in their ears, limiting their ability to hear oncoming cars.
What people do reveals a lot more about what they believe than what they say they believe. These pedestrians must believe that ‘somebody up there’ is looking after them, because they certainly aren’t looking after themselves.
They act as if they’re surrounded by an invisible force field.
They seem to believe that their time for an accident has not yet come. So they don’t need to take care.
They’re probably far too sophisticated to say they believe that Fate—or God—determines what will happen to them. But they obviously believe in some kind of miraculous protection. And they believe in it strongly enough to bet their lives on it.
Jim Taylor is the author of 17 books and countless magazine and newspaper articles. He lives in Okanagan Centre.