My wife lay on the road, her motorcycle in pieces beside her.

A taxi driver stood nearby smoking a cigarette, oblivious to how a sound had saved his life.

Elizabeth might have been pregnant, but we did not know.

I was scared.

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Earlier that day, Elizabeth and I had set out for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It was a sunny October day, and each of us was riding our own motorcycle as we moved through the streets of Berkeley on our way to the city. She rolled fluidly on the bike, skirting traffic like she had ridden for years. I snickered thinking about the day she had walked up to me and proudly announced, “I’m getting my own bike.”

“Really,” I had replied. “Why?”

“I don’t like your back seat,” she said.

“But you’ve ridden on it for years. Why’s it suddenly no good?”

“It’s too thin.”

“I’ll get a thicker one.”

“The seat’s not comfortable.”

“Then I’ll get one with armrests and a cup holder,” I said sarcastically.

“I don’t want to be on your bike anymore.”

There it was, the truth. Frankly, I was amazed Elizabeth had ever allowed herself to be relegated to the back of a motorcycle in the first place. Bikes ran deep in her family, as far back as Grandma Ann who had ridden the family Knucklehead around town. Elizabeth was simply following a long line of independent women.

“Fine,” I said. “Get your own bike.”

“I will.”

And she did. A week later Elizabeth brought home a Harley-Davidson 1200 Sportster, which she rode with authority. Women on motorcycles are dead sexy, and I was now purposefully falling behind her so I could watch her ride.

Traffic imploded around us as we crossed the Bay Bridge. Folks were slamming on brakes and changing lanes frantically. Three events were happening in the city that day and each drew huge crowds. The first was the bluegrass festival, which filled the better part of Golden Gate Park. Then there was The Love Fest, a gathering that had started in West Berlin in the late 80s as a dance music festival, but had degraded in San Francisco into a half-naked debauchery of drugs and alcohol. Had my wife not insisted on banjos and straw hats, it was something I would have enjoyed. And finally there was Oktoberfest at Pier 48, a draw for lovers of all things meat and beer.

We exited at 9th street and were immersed in craziness. People wearing flamboyant pink getups and German garb walked the streets drunk, stoned, or quickly getting there. Cars horns blared. Ignoring traffic signals, hipsters on fixies with no brakes whizzed between cars. Parties with music pounding raged from the porches of houses lining the streets. The city had become one huge party, and the deeper we moved into the city, the greater the idiocy became.

Elizabeth and I finally made Golden Gate Park and turned onto Stanyan Street. One last turn onto Fulton Street and we would be at the show.

But fate had different plans.

Each direction on Stanyan has two lanes. We were going up the hill. Elizabeth was in the left lane and I was in the right as we headed towards a green light at the first intersection. The oncoming traffic was stacked up in the left lane next to the double yellow line, but open on the right. The cars in the left lane had left a small gap in the intersection, which at the time seemed to me refreshing given that thoughtful driving is not common these days. Just then a yellow taxi cab crested the hill and came flying down the hill in the outer most lane. It slowed at the intersection and began turning left from the far right lane. The cab moved into the gap in traffic, coming to a halt with its bumper poking out just a few inches.

“No you don’t!” I yelled.

He did.

Time slowed as the cab popped out in front of my wife. She slammed on both brakes, but there was no avoiding the inevitable. Her motorcycle slammed into the front quarter panel, and she was thrown onto the hood before recoiling onto her bike and toppling to the ground. She lay by the wheels as the cab continued through the intersection and out of sight. He never stopped.

I threw my bike to the ground while it was still rolling and vaulted the handlebars. The sliding motorcycle caught my foot and almost knocked me down as I ran to my wife. When I got to her, she lay motionless.

“Are you OK?” I said, trying to appear calm.

Nothing.

“Are you OK!” I was now failing in every aspect to feign calmness.

“I think so,” she said frightened.

“Good. Stay still.”

She barely nodded, taking deep, measured breaths.

After a minute, she spoke again. “I think I’m alright. I’m gonna get up.” She started to move, then screamed. “Agghh! I’m not alright! I’m not alright!” Tears began streaming down her cheeks, and her mouth crumpled in pain.

Fear exploded in me. “What hurts?” I asked.

No answer.

“Elizabeth. What hurts?”

“My back! It burns!”

I slipped a hand under her jacked, but felt nothing out of place. No blood.

People had begun to congregate. Some did nothing more than stare inappropriately, but others tried to help. A lady kneeled down and took Elizabeth’s head between her hands. “I’m a nurse,” she said. “Keep still and don’t move your head. We need to keep your helmet on until the ambulance comes.” She began comforting my wife, slipping in questions to assess her state.

“She may be pregnant,” I blurted out to the nurse.

She nodded solemnly. “Good to know.”

As the nurse returned to caring for Elizabeth, a pair of feet appeared in my peripheral vision. I looked up to find a man standing above us aloofly smoking a cigarette. He looked unconcerned. “She hurt?” he asked through a thick accent.

I was about to tell the man to “Fuck off” when I saw his shirt. There was something important about it, but at the time my brain was too preoccupied to tell me why. I changed focal length and there behind him, half way down the block, was a yellow car. On its side was a white and black logo. It was the same logo as the one on the man’s shirt. The car was the cab. And he was the driver.

Rage came. My muscles tensed. Cognitive reason ceased, and my vision was bathed in a pale pink. I was seeing red.

It was something I had experienced only once before.

Years earlier, my kitten Elwood escaped from our house in Virginia after the front door open had been left open. As I was looking for her in the yard, I spotted her sitting two feet into the street, happily watching cars go by. Before I could move to get her, a white, convertible Cadillac with the top down came barreling down the street towards the kitten. I yelled for the guy to stop. He looked at me, and I yelled again, pointing to the kitten. The man frowned, gave me the finger, then steered towards the cat. The front wheel missed her by inches as she recoiled in fear. I saw red and began running after the car at speeds unachievable to me before that moment. For blocks I chased the car, even after it was long gone, with no other desire than to hurt the man.

Once again, unbridled anger took me as I went for the cab driver.

But just then a most peculiar thing happened. Elizabeth wailed. Her voice was distant through my rage, but nonetheless clear. It echoed in my ear before my anger vaporized. My wife had done something Elwood did not, quenching my rage by verbalizing her fear and pain. With the man forgotten, I returned to Elizabeth.

Sirens could be heard in the distance. Help was coming.

A hand squeezed my shoulder, and I turned to find a man in a blue boiler suit. “I got your bikes up and on their stands. They’re over on the sidewalk.” Both bikes were neatly parked along the wall of a building.

“Thanks,” I mumbled then turned back to my wife. I should have said more to the stranger, a man nice enough to stop and help, but at the time it was all I could manage.

A fire truck arrived, soon followed by an ambulance. EMTs poured out and surrounded Elizabeth. Even under great duress, I noticed how good looking these men and women were. It was as if the Barbie and Ken emergency services collection came to life by my wife’s side. Long legs and chiseled jaws moving in sync as they asked Elizabeth questions and checked her vital signs.

Two police officers appeared.  Unlike the EMTs, they were both paunchy and soft looking, like a pair of blueberry Jell-O bookends. Both men moved from person to person asking questions about the accident.

“When are we going to the hospital?” I asked one of the EMTs.

“Soon,” he said. “We just need to put a neck brace on your wife and get her onto a board.”

“Are we going there?” I asked. As luck would have it, Saint Mary’s Medical Center was at the intersection of the accident.

“No,” he said. “There’s a hospital just a bit farther that’s better suited for this.” The EMT walked off towards the ambulance.

Alone, I stood tortured myself by guessing what “better suited for this” might mean.

Elizabeth was finally loaded into the ambulance. A man and woman monitored her in the back as I sat up front next to the driver. Before we left, one of the cops waddled over and gave me our jackets and helmets. “I’ll get your statement later,” he said before closing the door and letting us be on our way.

From the back EMTs bantered in medical jargon. I asked the driver, “Do you think she’ll be alright?”

“I do. Her signs are good.” After a pause he continued, “But sometimes there’re things we can’t see, like internal bleeding. She’ll need x-rays for that.”

“I don’t think she can have x-rays,” I said. “She may be pregnant.”

He nodded.

Pastel Victorian houses move by the window as we drove to the hospital. I sat watching, wondering why we had come into the city that day on motorcycles. Wondering why the hell I had ever agreed to let Elizabeth ride her own bike, especially after we started trying to have a child. Angry, frustrated, and sad, my brain filled with visions of burning our bikes and never riding again.

A woman rode by us on a café racer. She was smiling through her open-face helmet. It was the same look Elizabeth had worn the first day she rode her own bike.

We arrived at the hospital and folks in scrubs wheeled Elizabeth through the sliding doors and in the back. I tried to follow, but a nurse stopped me and said to remain in the waiting room. Someone handed me paperwork, and I tossed it on a seat and began pacing.

An hour later, the same nurse came out. “You can go in now.”

I found Elizabeth laying on a hospital gurney in a sterile-looking room.

“Hey there,” I said softly. “How you doing?”

“Oh, alright,” she said with a weak smile.

“Where is everyone?”

“They checked me out until they felt I was OK. Then they left.”

Taking her hand, my emotions broke and the tears I had held back for hours came freely.

“It’s OK, honey,” she said. “I’m not dead.”

I laughed, sending tears and snot shooting from my nose.

“Besides,” she continued, “did you see those Firemen and EMTs? Man, they were hot! The men and the women.”

“Well, this is San Francisco.”

“Yeah, but still. Wow!”

“You’re incorrigible.”

“I gotta get in more accidents.”

“Enough,” I said squeezing her hand.

A doctor walked in holding a clipboard. It must have been modeling day for the professional services because this guy was hot too. He looked like the type of guy with grand hobbies like mountaineering and saving wounded lion cubs.

“Our first check showed nothing serious,” he said. “But since we can’t use an x-ray to be certain there’s no internal trauma, we’ll have to hold you a bit longer and watch your vital signs.”

“Without an x-ray can you be sure there’s nothing wrong?” I asked.

“An x-ray is our best way to tell, but with the possibility of pregnancy we want to avoid radiation to her midsection.”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “If I am pregnant, I think a motorcycle accident is enough for the baby for one day. No need to irradiate him too.”

I noticed she said “him,” but passed it off as coincidence.

In time, we found that Elizabeth had not been pregnant. She had, however, torn her left erectus muscle. It made most all motions painful, including sex, so for the months following the accident we relaxed our efforts to make a baby. It was time I used to convince Elizabeth to stay off motorcycles while there was a baby in our lives. And she did. Whether that was because I told her to or because she allowed me to think I told her to is open for debate; all good marriages are based on some fantasy.

“Now to the bad news,” the doctor continued. “I have to check your entire body before I leave and to do that you need to get naked.”

Elizabeth smirked. “We can make it interesting and you get naked too.”

The doctor laughed and lowered his clipboard.

I exhaled and leaned back in the plastic hospital chair, comfortable with the knowledge that my wife was safe in the hands of a man much better looking than me.

39 Comments

  1. Thanks to Stephen Wiltshire for the illustration used with this story. More of his incredible architectural artistry can be found at: http://www.StephenWiltshire.co.uk

    Thanks also to Eric Bachman for copyediting.

  2. WOW…what a story! Glad she was OK…and that she found humor in the situation. BTW…did she get her wish (doctor stripping down too) LOL?!?!? Good stuff Kevin…love reading these!!!

  3. Kevin, great as usual! Really enjoyed the personal touch on this one – made me remember how much fun and lovely your wife is.

  4. Another great story Kevin, “blueberry Jell-O bookends” thats funny!

  5. As riders and husbands we “dream” of riding with our wives. Two-up or each on our own bikes. The wise ones among us riders explain the risks involved with riding. My wife recently got her own bike. It makes me nervous and incredibly proud every time that I watch her ride it. I’m glad to her that your wife is basically ok. Your attention to detail during the situation is apparent in your well-portrayed recollection of the event. Thank you for sharing this story. Encourage your wife to find other ways to meet handsome people.

  6. Great story

  7. We have several women who either ride or want to here at Fox Creek Leather, including myself. Thanks for sharing your stories, as always, well written!

  8. This story hit home in two ways. My wife made the decision years ago to buy and ride her own bike. There is nothing like riding with your life partner in the lane next to you. There is a sense of pride as well as the fear of what if.

    The second part is, not long ago, we were in a cab in this very area during the same festivals. As we sat in the horrific traffic, we gazed at the unique people in the streets and the motorcyclist making their way through the traffic. We squeezed each other’s hands as we said a small prayer for their safety.

    We didn’t see any accidents and I doubt very much we are talking about the same day and time. I will however thank the Lord that your wife is alive today.

  9. What a great read. I am very happy that your wife was not seriously injured. I hate hearing about bikes getting hit by people who dont consider the consequences of pulling out into any type of intersection and not looking or listening for a bike. What happend with the d-bag cab driver ?

    • The taxi driver got off scott free. The police, while worrying about talking with everyone else, failed to get his info.

      I used to be angry about it but have since learned to let it go.

  10. I loved this story, Kevin. I really enjoyed and actually read it while the 2.5 year old was awake. Beautiful writing as usual… :) Always keep your eyes on that Elizabeast!

  11. Funny last line – and incidentally I’m glad she wasn’t pregnant…too much worry right from the get-go!!

  12. Good Stuff, as Always!!

  13. Wow man, really amazing writing! And I’m glad everything turned out ok with your wife and it wasn’t something more serious! You can always remplace bikes and parts but not lives. Take care and keep doing what your doing, you got great talent!

  14. Wow. This was quite an emotional read. Glad she’s okay. The thought of this happening to my lady came over me when I was reading it. Your wife has an awesome sense of humor and seemed to really make things better. Keep the shiny side up man

  15. I can’t even imagine seeing my wife laying in the road. Especially while potentially pregnant. I’m glad everything worked out okay!

  16. Great stuff Kevin. Riveting and emotional. I’m in the waiting room now to get a cast off from a wreck in July. My wife doesn’t ride and has never been comfortable with me riding. She figures that, even if she dug the ride, not a good idea to have mom and dad riding at the same time.

    Sure glad she is okay. How long ago was this?

    • Four years ago. And now we have a boy. He’s a healthy, 2.5-year-old holy terror named Gage with a passion for motorcycles, which he calls “vroom-vroom.”

      Glad you’re OK from your crash!

  17. Glad to hear your wife is ok. Good read.

  18. “It was time I used to convince Elizabeth to stay off motorcycles while there was a baby in our lives. And she did.” Wow… Just wondering if it had been the other way around, you t-boning a cab, would she have been able to convince you to stay off motorcycles while there was a baby in your lives? :?

  19. years ago my wife wanted to ride her own, so i said fine and we shopped for bikes online..she couldn’t make up her mind. I remembered something from her past, and grabbed her by the wrist and inverted it, showing her a long scar that was over 30 years old. I was wondering when you’d remember that. She said smiling. I don’t want to ride anymore. I never did after that day. I’m happy on the back. While our kids were young, she stayed off the bike..fearing that if we had an accident and heaven forbid we were killed, our kids would be orphaned. The kids have grown..and she gets the pangs to want to go again. We go occasionly, but iuts not thsame we need a bigger bike nowdays..but money will be tight for another few years yet..Wondering about the scar..she came off as a teenager on the back of her girlfriend and near tore her left hand off.

  20. Best writing I’ve read on the internet in a very long time. Interested in how your insurance co handled the police not getting the at fault driver’s info.

    • Elizabeth’s insurance ended up covered the accident. Now whether they go after him for the money remains to be seen (yes, even after 4 years this still drags on…).

      • The optimist in me wants to think the police can somehow be held accountable for incompetence, but this result or the fact its still on going isn’t surprising in the least.

  21. Great Read! I’m home recovering from an accident, non bike related. Glad she’s ok, the story left me with one question thou.. What’s it like when there’s someone better looking than you? I have yet to encounter this!

  22. Now pregnant with our own child, this story brought tears to my eyes. We went on one last motorcycle ride the night before we found out we were pregnant, and as such it was so easy to put myself in your shoes. I love your writing style, and could hear your voices as I read. Thank you for sharing such a vivid event!

  23. Very good write up. I never read these all the way through, but I had to know if everything was alright. Hope she is feeling well, and good luck on the baby.

    • The fact that you read the story through means I’m getting better at my job. Thanks.

      Elizabeth is well, and our boy Gage is a healthy, 2.5-year-old holy terror.

  24. This one made me choke up. The detail and emotion – I could picture her face as she wailed. Very real. Wonderfully written.

  25. Amazingly written. Great story, Kevin! Glad she’s A OK!

  26. great read with real emotions and in really good language. thank you so much

  27. Another great story, Kev. Got me right in the sub-cockle area.

  28. Another great story Kevin! Thanks for sharing!!

  29. You made me laugh and cry!

  30. Great story man!! Glad wife ok.

  31. If your son is a holy terror, and son of a physicist, biker, get this book:”Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers” by James T. Webb

    You will need this info when the school misdiagnoses him with ADD.