In the six or seven minutes that it took for that second to pass, I had time to consider my options: Should I just put my head down and keep running? Should I stop and see if everyone was alright? As that moment stretched out like temporal silly putty, I could reflect. What was the right thing to do?
Well, as it turns out, the right thing to do wasn't that hard to discern. Not that going on my way would have been a violation of the law or any civic ordinance. In urban Oakland, cars run into one another every day. While I was very fortunate not to be part of the impact, I could see that things were not going at all well for those who were.
Leading up to this stretchy moment, I had been running down the hill toward one of the trickier intersections on my route. Three streets converge at one stop light, including and off ramp from the highway. Once I'm past that interchange, it's clear sailing the rest of the way home. As I approached, I checked the signal as well as any anxious motorists trying to make a quick start on their Friday night. Looking left, right, then left again, I stepped off the curb.
That's when it happened. The silver Ford Focus came flying toward me, having been catapulted forward by the red Honda that had slammed into the Ford's back end. Adrenalin got me to the other curb in record time, and as I turned around to see the debris settle and the two cars come clattering to a stop just across the way, I made my choice. I would stick around and help in any way that I could. The first thing I chose to do was to dodge traffic that poured back into the intersection after the light changed. They weren't involved in a collision. They had places to be.
Except a couple considerate motorists who pulled over to check and see if they could help. And call the police. That was the limitation of my iPod. Plenty of music, but no emergency channel. So I went back to the scene of the impact to pull the tools and hard hat that had been popped out of the Ford's trunk. I carried them over to the driver, who by this point had gotten himself out of the car and was sitting on the curb just a few steps from the wrecked Honda. The couple inside the Honda seemed shaken but not visibly injured. The three people whose automobiles had just merged now sat within feet of one another, without speaking.
They were waiting for the authorities.
So was I.
I went back to the corner and pulled the plastic bumper out of the street as cars continued to make their way to wherever they were headed. When the fire truck, ambulance and two police cars finally appeared, I waited patiently for the officer to assess the scene. Then he came back across the street where I was standing and gave me my cue: "Did you see what happened?"
I had. I told him my story. He thanked me.
Then I finished up my run.