...in Key West -probably the most bike friendly place in the whole US - where tourist bikes outnumber cars 3:1, bike paths abound, motor vehicles are subservently respectful of cyclists almost to the point of excessive, yadda yadda...and...
...last night, just a street above us, a cyclist was hit by a car.
Early evening, sitting and reading on the porch with piņa coladas in hand, enjoying our neighbor's soft 1940's era music, completely unprepared for the sudden heartstopping scream of locking brakes - so unusual in our quiet neighborhood. Not hearing a thud of metal to metal, I figured the car had probably stopped short for a feral chicken or cat..both of which outnumber all other life forms here 10:1. Within minutes, however, a steady stream of redirected motor traffic is flowing past our (up until then) quiet road, completely negating my feral kamakazi chicken vs car theory, prompting one of our neighbors to take a stroll up the street to find out what had happened.
He came back with the chilling news that there were flashing red lights and emergency vehicles blocking the intersection one street up. It looked to be a bike/car accident.
My blood froze at his words. I left my drink, book, and sister (who preferred to remain sitting and reading) and hiked up the street to the riot of strobbing red to see the aftermath.
Thankfully, no mayhem. No blood, no bodies. Just a big blob of standing figures encircled by a pack of self-absorbed emergency vehicles glowering all other traffic into obedient intimidation, with the exception of one small, cowed auto looking rather hangdog in that stern army of important official vehicles, its downcast headlights reflecting the dark form of a wounded bike lying nearby.
I wiggled my way through the block of curious bystanders and cyclists (gripping their bikes tightly) all peering intently at the scene unfolding in the middle of the street diagonal from our corner. I asked one cyclist bystander - who had a death grip on her bike (her lights blinking away in time to the red strobs illuminating the halted street) - what had happened. "I think a bike got hit" she replied, taking her eyes off the scene for only a second to look at me, then turning her head to stare intently at the blocked street again. Everyone was completely silent, just standing, watching.
It took a few minutes for the dark blob on the far side of the street to finally disburse into recognizable human forms - a squaderon of LEOs, EMTs, a lone lady driver, an elderly gentleman (our victim cyclist) sitting on the street curb, and his female cycling companion/wife/daughter/whatever hovering protectively at his elbow, and a few helpful stander-byes. Our cyclist was helped to his feet by the EMPs, but summarily dismissed his attendees after that courtesy. Displaying a small limp - whether from the encounter with the car, the pavement, or preexisting - he waved off a ride, gurney or otherwise, to the hospital as unnecessary. Someone picked up the injured bike and brought it to him. A rental, easily discernable even in pitch blackness. It had to be half carried as it was dead lame in the rear with a badly bent wheel. It had taken the brunt of the collusion and, had it been a horse, they would have shot it. It was obviously toast, and soon to be scrap metal. Poor beast. The rider, thankfully, had been spared.
I expelled a huge, silent breath of relief, unaware until that moment that my heart had been in my mouth. I took the calming moment to survey the scene, illuminated by strobing red lights and the fluid white headlights of the cars being detoured past.
A dark intersection, no crosswalk, stop sign streets leading onto a busy main thoroughfare. No bike path that I could see on the main road. The rental bike, equipped with regulation fore and aft flashers that were not on (whether turned off after the accident or not used prior), the rider in a white windbreaker so at least he was visible - which perhaps was a saving grace. No helmet.
It was a sobering, reflective walk back to the cottage to report back to my sister. I'm glad the old gentleman is OK. I know the driver will be spooked for a long time. Sadly, Paradise has been tarnished just a bit. Reality sucks sometimes.
But... come morning we'll be back on our beach cruisers once again, tires pumped to the max, joining the throngs of other happy vacationers cycling along, enjoying this slice of bike-loving island heaven, my Swarovski crystal blinged helmet glittering in the subtropical sun, my personal bike blinkies - currently relaged to dog collar use - quietly waiting at home for the nightime walks with the dogs. (Those blinkies are the best thing EVER for making two black dogs stand out at night. They're a hoot to see, and my sister is now determined to have a set of her own once she gets home).