A very long time ago, I was an office worker in San Francisco enjoying an afternoon smoke break. There was already a slight cultural disconnect between me and my co-workers, or I should say bosses. They were older than me, more successful, and all drove into the office from their suburban houses. They would often dictate letters during their commute for me to type up later.
I lived in a cheap rented flat in the city and rode my bike to and from work. This was before people riding bikes to work were called bike commuters, and this was before I called myself a cyclist. I simply rode my bike to get around. My co-worker/bosses would always warn me to be careful, and I felt they were implying my lack of care might get me killed.
Bike racks weren't a standard piece of street furniture yet. The high-rise office building where I worked didn't have a single rack - not in front, or in back, or even in the huge underground parking lot. I would lock my little cruiser bike to a no parking sign in the adjacent alley with a long chain, Pee Wee-style.
So, there I stood on the south side of Market Street, right between 2nd and Sansome, enjoying my Marlboro Red cigarette while watching the world go by. A cute bike messenger boy rode by, headed up town. I would learn, many years later, that he had just handed off some concert tickets to his best friend and ridden off to do a delivery.
A bus came up behind him and I heard brakes screech. Then I heard a lady scream. I've never heard such a dreadful sound before or since. Everything else went silent suddenly, and a young man lay next to his bike, underneath the front wheel of the bus.
Just writing this now brings tears to my eyes. On that day, I cried also. A life had ended. Someone's son had died. Someone's brother was gone. Just like that, over in a heartbeat.
But it was time to get back upstairs, so I numbly zombied my way inside, past the concierge, into the elevator, into suite 707 and to my desk. I just stared at my computer and my hands on the keyboard. How can things just keep going for everyone when one of us has been killed?
My co-worker/bosses were gathered at the office window looking down. I didn't want to tell them I'd seen the crash and I didn't want to talk with them about my feelings. But I had a piece of paper to deliver to that office, so I snuck in and dropped it in the in-box. What I overheard made my blood turn cold.
"Why are they making a mess all over the street? That's littering! Stupid bikers. Stupid bike messengers. They're slowing down traffic with all those flowers"
I backed out of the office and away from these monsters and back to my desk to wait out the afternoon. I remember walking my bike home that day. About three miles. I didn't fully realize yet that I was right at the beginning of a new life.