January 28, 2015 • 5 minute read • by Saeed
“Every crisis offers you extra desired power.” ~ Unknown.
First off, I am okay. Thanks for asking. Every motorcycle rider expects to crash. What I don’t expect is to have my faith in humanity restored as a result of it.
Here is how it happened.
My crash set off a series of encounters with bystanders, the police, a tow truck driver, a motorcycle mechanic and the young father I met on the bus ride home that would each reinforce valuable and profound lessons.
My Kawasaki W650 (affectionately named Wilma by my son) is a rare and beautiful machine. You can see that in the picture above. I polish mine daily with unicorn fur. I was headed back from a business meeting volunteering for a nonprofit whose work I liked when the accident happened.
Three car lengths ahead someone slammed on their brakes causing a chain reaction to the rear. Because the W650 does not come equipped with anti-lock brakes, when I slammed on mine, I locked up the front wheel and laid down the bike. It helped me avoid hitting the car directly in front but I sacrificed my bike in the process. None of the vehicles in the accident made contact with each other but in an instant I was on the ground with a heap of metal on top of me.
Lesson #1: People are basically good…
I don’t know how many people rushed to my aid but it was many. Someone lifted the bike off of me and someone else pushed it to the side of the road. Everyone asked if I was okay. The best was an elderly man (Tom) and his wife who were in the car behind me when the accident happened. They pulled over to offer me a ride to the hospital and would not leave until they were 100% sure I was okay. I was basically okay. Road rash and limp but basically okay.
Thanks Tom. You and your wife are two of the kindest souls I’ve ever met.
Lesson #2: Judge people by their inside, not their outside…
Eventually a cop showed up as they often do to accident scenes where injuries are involved. I am weary of cops. Maybe it’s the cause-less rebel in me but I am. He talked to the lady driving the car in the front who slammed on her brakes. He found out she was on meds. What could I do? He eventually left and I was glad he did. I called AAA and waited feeling sullen about my beautiful machine that was now a mangled mess of metal. The scene started to clear out of other people too when I spotted the cop coming back. I thought, here we go. He’s going to hassle me. It turns out he was a motorcycle enthusiast and he just wanted to keep me company while I waited for my tow. We started talking about bikes and he told me about the Harley he rode to Mexico in his younger days. I loved his stories. The journalist trapped inside of me suddenly shifted the conversation.
“Officer,” I said, “may I ask you something?”
“Sure,” he replied.
“As a police officer, how do you feel about the police shootings and protests that have dominated the headlines this year?”
In the next few moments of conversation, Mark, an African American cop born and raised in Oakland, opened my eyes to race relations and the reality of community policing in the United States in a way I could not have imagined. It’s not a black and white issue.
Thank you Mark. Much respect to you and your profession.
Lesson #3: Optimism trumps adversity…
The tow truck driver was a surly and easy going man in his 30s but he looked much older. Another motorcycle enthusiast, at first he tried to fix my bike. Having failed, he mounted it on the truck with the help of the police officer. On the ride to the only mechanic shop I could find open, I learned he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly 15 years later, he is healthy and vibrant. In asking what got him through the ordeal, he replied: “I’ve always had a positive outlook on life.” I asked about his personal life (journalist again). He told me about his agoraphobic girlfriend. I imagined adversity but I was wrong.
“We are very happy together,” he said. “We plan to move to Iceland.” That took me by surprise.
“Why Iceland,” I asked.
“Because there was only one murder there last year,” he replied.
“What will you do for a living?” I asked, to which he confidently replied: “I am a tow truck driver — cars are everywhere. Wherever I go, I can get a job.”
After dropping me off at the motorcycle shop he offered to wait to take me home but I declined out of consideration for his time. I reached into my pocket and took out what cash I had left to offer him a tip and he declined out of consideration for my loss.
“You’ll need it for the ride home,” he said.
Thanks Bobby. Your resilience and optimism still inspire me. I wonder where you are now.
Lesson #4: Do what you love, love what you do…
My regular mechanic shop was closed. I love my shop and I refuse to take my bike anywhere else. The X factor with the two gentlemen who own the shop is that one of them is a former economist and the other a physicist. They’re both PhDs.They traded their life in academia for doing what they love and for what makes them happy — turning wrenches on bikes. I’ve been taking my bike there for years and never thought I’d go anywhere else. But today, the only shop I could find open was in the middle of the crack infested neighborhood in San Francisco called the Tenderloin.
The shop owner greeted me when we arrived and he immediately recognized my bike with a sense of affection.
“I have two of these myself,” he said. I was delighted. He knows how to work on my bike, I thought.
After a quick inspection, we got into a conversation. He was a refugee from Vietnam. He spent his initial years in a refugee camp in the Philippines separated from his family. When he finally made it to the US, he started life as a janitor in a motorcycle dealership before learning how to work on bikes. He saved money, was reunited with his family and after 30 years of hard work, he retired as the head mechanic of the dealership. In 2008, when the global economy melted down, he was laid off. He decided to risk everything and put all his savings into the motorcycle repair shop.
“I am not rich,” he said, “but I am happy.”
Eventually, Adam fixed my bike with a part off his own bike because the part was too rare to find even online.
Thank you Adam. You are the best mechanic ever. And you don’t even have a PhD.
Lesson #5: Help others and you will help yourself…
I left the shop with the intention to Uber my way home but decided to take the bus instead because surge pricing was in effect.
My cell battery was drained by now from use so there was nothing to distract me except the view out the window. We came to the next station and the doors swung open. A young man and woman pushing a baby stroller boarded and sat next to me. Once again, my inner journalist emerged.
I discovered that Anton and his girlfriend were not married. Their daughter was ten months old and he had a two year old son from another relationship. His ex girlfriend would not let him see his son. Anton told me that he never saw his own father and he did not want this to happen to his son.
I told Anton about community resources available through nonprofits I had volunteered for that could give him support and put him on the track to re-establishing a relationship with his son. I gave him the names and numbers of a couple of attorneys I knew who did pro bono work for the community. I got to my station and before hopping off Anton said to me: “I know there is a reason why God put me on the bus with you today.”
I got off the bus feeling a sense of renewed purpose and fulfillment for having been able to help another human being, albeit in a small way.
Thank you Anton. I think there is a reason why we met too.
A final Word…
It may sound mushy but my day left me feeling that life is mysterious and wonderful. I was aghast at how my disaster could become so inspiring. It was a beautiful day. That I walked away from a motorcycle accident is something in and of itself. That my faith in humanity was restored as a result, feels like a small miracle. I am sure that these encounters have a deeper meaning than I even realize now. There are angels everywhere if you care to see them. It is good to be reminded that sometimes you need to slow down, embrace the kindness of strangers, suspend assumptions and judgments, do the work you love, and open your mind, heart and eyes to the everyday magic that is all around you.
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©2017 — All Content and Photography by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.