I had to laugh when my co-worker asked me, So, what is there to be scared of?” I had been telling him about my year in Belize and he was entirely in earnest with his question. “Nothing.” I said lightly.
During our time as managers of a remote lodge, Bob and I frequently met guests from the developed world who were apprehensive about everything from snakes to drinking water. It was our job to assure them that they were safe. Trying to put it into perspective we would ask, “Have you ever been in a car accident or know anyone who was in one?” We’d point out that the odds for becoming a highway casualty far outweigh those for getting snake bit.
We live on a short stretch of road with a speed limit of 45 mph, 10 miles per hour lower then the rest of Hwy 1012. This piece of road is striped to indicate two passing zones, one for south-bound traffic, followed immediately by a passing zone for traffic traveling north. A few years ago Tami discovered that if you get hit trying to turn left in the passing zone, you are both the injured party and at fault.
Before pulling out of or back into our driveway I hold my breath and tuck my tongue safely behind my teeth. The unmistakable squeal and thud of wreck sends us scrambling and we’ve played the role of first-responder three times over the past six months. Our neighbors are also quick on the scene and the running joke between us is, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this!” Afterwards, I email the traffic engineer at the Department of Transportation (DOT) and ask them to consider re-zoning it to no passing. No luck so far.
When we returned to the States from Nicaragua, we noticed a ubiquitous new phrase. At first, I bristled when grocery cashiers sent me on my way with a casual, “Be safe!” This must be a reaction to the 911 attack, I thought. How myopic to think that we, of all people, have anything to worry about. Here we are, perched on top of the world’s resources with every imaginable safety net installed.
Sunday found us on our back porch with a happy group of people, filling plates with potluck food when we heard the familiar thud of an accident. I set down my plate and ran to the road, hoping to find a mere fender-bender but when I arrived I saw Bob, who I last saw napping, leaning into the window of a truck. Someone was still inside!
So I dialed 911 and began answering questions. Was the patient breathing? I didn’t know. I walked over for a look and to my horror recognized the driver as a friend who had intended to join us for dinner. The dispatcher’s patience was commendable. Several times she reined me in with, “Okay, I’m going to ask some questions and I need you to answer.” I made it through the call, but not with flying colors. This was too close to home for comfort.
After I got off the phone, Haruka and I held each other in a long embrace. My neighbor Jimmy grinned wryly, saying “We have to stop meeting like this,” and I waved to his wife across the street. The ambulance quickly arrived and whisked our friend away. Everything turned out as well as could be expected. The truck suffered much, much more than the human. My contact at DOT will look into our piece of road again, and the State Troopers who wrote up the report promised to keep an eye on our stretch of road.
Still, the whole affair had a sobering affect. As much as I dislike the phrase, staying safe actually has meaning when the danger is right outside your door.