Racing to beat the train

a bicycle speeding in the bike lane This morning I woke up with a giant cat relaxing on my chest waiting for his breakfast. I looked at my phone and saw the time was 8 a.m., and decided I would try to make the 9:30 a.m. Jivamukti class uptown at Life Yoga with my dear teacher Libby. I fed my roommate’s cat (Puch) and my other roommate’s dog (Irie), made some almond milk and then a breakfast smoothie, got my shit together and was out the door by 8:40 a.m.

It was a beautiful foggy morning in New Orleans, the sun not yet burned through the clouds. I didn’t have any time to spare, as I was planning to take a bus from downtown to uptown, and would be right on time if I was lucky. As I approached Press Street on Chartres I heard the deep bellowing horn of a train coming, and raced towards the tracks to see if I could beat it. Once I got closer I saw that it was a block away and sped up and over the tracks.

As I breezed across Press street just on the other side of the tracks I saw a silver pickup truck flying towards the intersection on my right, trying to beat the train. The thought was crossing my mind that I should watch out for speeding cars while dodging trains when I heard the truck screeching to a stop. I slowed and looked back over my shoulder to see the truck half in the intersection with a woman and her bike down in the street in front of it.

For one brief moment the thought crossed my mind that I should keep going. The truck had stopped and two men were out talking to the woman. I could still make my class. That thought was quickly replaced by compassionate concern, and I turned around and went back.

Laney's mangled bike wheel, with railroad tracks in the background

The woman was still tangled in her mangled bike, but sitting upright talking. I offered to call 911 and the driver of the car became agitated, saying he did not have insurance and offering to help her outside of the law. His friend was trying to keep the woman calm, telling her not to look at her bleeding ankles. It took me a few seconds to decide what to do, with the woman getting visibly more upset, and so I took out my phone and called 911.

While I was trying to speak to the operator over the noise of the train and the friend and a security guard who had come out of an adjacent building the driver quietly disappeared from the scene in his vehicle, leaving his friend behind to deal with the aftermath.

To his credit, the passenger stayed and helped the woman and the police, swearing and angry that his friend had put him in this predicament. It turned out that the area by the tracks was under surveillance and the security guard went in to retrieve the footage for the police.

I stayed as a witness, but also to be a friend to the woman. She was taking it all very well, speaking positively about her recent acquisition of health insurance and a car, and that these things would make her recovery more bearable.

For me, there was a deep feeling of compassion for all the people involved. I once killed a pedestrian with my car, and this has of course stuck with me all of my life. I still today do not know how much I was to blame, but I remember waiting for the police to come, a white face in a completely black neighborhood in D.C., standing next to my pickup truck while the woman’s blood formed a pool around her head. It was dark out and she had been crossing a busy street outside of the crosswalk, a bottle of liquor in her purse. I had been messing with my radio and once I looked up there was no time to stop. The white cops didn’t issue me a ticket, and instead I have lived the intervening years wondering I was presumed innocent only because of racism. I am sure that the thought of fleeing the scene had crossed my mind as well.

I could feel the emotional turmoil inside the passenger’s heart, not knowing wether to be loyal to his friend “of ten years” or to do the right thing and stay until the police came. He was cursing his friend and pacing around angrily. I thought about how my yoga practice has helped me overcome extreme anger in most situations, yet still wondered if I could have done any better.

And then of course the biker, Laney. She took it all so well, not a trace of anger showing. Looking at the bright side, keeping it all in perspective. She was young and beautiful and I wanted to hug her but I kept my space, and instead just talked to her and tried to be good company until her friend showed up to take her to the hospital.

A streetlight post fell and crushed the bike locked to it. Perhaps another driver trying to beat a train?

We talked about our jobs and my yoga project and found we had a mutual connection. We compared our toenail polish, mine gold and hers a lovely turquoise. I gave her my card and carried her to her friend’s car when the time came. “I should bake you a pie”, she said as I lowered her into the passenger seat. I said that it might be challenging since I am a vegan. “I’m vegan too!”, she said. What are the odds, in New Orleans? I told her to email me but don’t know if she ever will. The universe brings people in and out of our lives in strange ways.

We were all racing to beat the train. If I had not been a few yards in front of Laney the pickup may not have slowed down. The stop sign certainly didn’t make a difference. Perhaps my being there saved her life, perhaps not. The karma of four individuals played out into the event, and all of us left as different people.

The driver is now a fugitive, and will face the repercussions of dishonesty and self-interest. What good can possibly come for him? The passenger will have to re-evaluate his friendship. The fallout from being honest and doing what was right will undoubtedly move him towards the light. Laney has come through a difficult situation, as we all do, to repay past karma. She was such a wonderful example of keeping the mind balanced in hardship, I felt inspired standing near her radiance. I hope that as she recovers she will continue to shine.

As for me, well, I will probably still race against the train.