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Making good with irony and absurdity

Posted byWritten by David

Sometimes irony is self-evident, sometimes it’s not. We can change the trajectory of our life if we can see and do something with it

What does Ferris Bueller say at the end of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”?

“Yep, I said it before and I’ll say it again; life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

A Bloomberg CityLab/MapLab story about the inefficiencies of bus networks awakened a series of memories from 15 years ago when I was in the early months of reinventing my life.

Read MapLab: How Car-Centric Street Networks Make Buses Less Efficient – Bloomberg

I moved to Sioux Falls, SD from the jail in Winner, SD during the last week of January 2006. I was starting life over without a job and living in a sober home. My license was revoked for 5 years. My parents bought me a bike to get around, some new clothes, a cell phone, and paid a few months of my rent.

I had the basics, but this moment was perilous. The previous few years were filled with all the horror severe addiction brings. Everywhere in front of me were hurdles and barriers to progress. Navigating this level of change requires immense will power. Any slight distraction from the goals given to me and the ones set by me would result in a cataclysmic fall.

Although I had a bike to get around the city of Sioux Falls, it was winter. And, Sioux Falls in 2006 was not the most bike-friendly or walkable city. It is a city of urban sprawl designed with one mode of transportation in mind: the car.

The bus was something I had to figure out and use. I had never needed to use the bus before. It was incredibly frustrating. Buses were never on time. It was impossible to make sense of the schedule or plan accordingly. It was also impossible to really know how much longer it would take to get to my destination after getting to the last stop. We take this for granted now because Apple and Google Maps calculate and tell us walking time from one destination to another.

The bus also cost money — of which I had very little. My bike was free, it just required more time and care getting from place to place.

To complicate matters, I had to do morning and evening breathalyzers at the jail, which was 20 blocks from where I lived. It was a straight shot down one of the main arteries of the city, but I could ride through the residential streets to avoid the most dangerous traffic.

Feature story in the Argus Leader later that summer on the 24/7 Sobriety Program (twice daily breathalyzers). I did breathalyzers for 947 days, all negative.

Feature story in the Argus Leader later that summer on the 24/7 Sobriety Program (twice daily breathalyzers). I did breathalyzers for 947 days, all negative.

One day, it was snowing. This was almost 15 years ago to the day. The morning trip was easy enough — I’d gotten pretty good at biking in the snow. The evening trip was snowier. I gave myself an hour and a half to make the trip. Unfortunately, I had to stay on the main road’s sidewalks because the residential roads and sidewalks were almost impassible.

The last six blocks were downhill. The sidewalk had a thin layer of fresh, slightly dense snow. I became more cautious and aware. Most importantly, I had plenty of time to get to the jail before the 7:00 pm deadline.

Just as I was making my way to the bottom of the hill and one block from my destination, the one thing you dread never happens to you while riding a bike happened. A car was coming up the hill and I locked eyes with the driver. He was planning to turn into a parking lot of a laundromat that I was about to pass. It seemed clear from the non-verbal exchange that he was going to let me pass by because stopping for me was a near impossibility.

That’s not what happened.

He turned in without slowing down and hit me.

He hit the back end of my bike and thankfully the 2000 lb. car did not hit my body. But I was thrown down the hill, sliding on my side until I came to a stop some 70-100 feet away. My bike was destroyed.

The car kept onward into the laundromat parking lot. As I was collecting my thoughts and absorbing the shock of what just happened, the driver got out of the car and went into the laundromat. I saw him talk to a woman, get back in the car, and leave. I made note of the car, its license plate number, and where it headed.

Taking hold of my mangled bike, I walked up to the laundromat and found the woman the driver was speaking to inside. She seemed horrified. She hadn’t seen what happened but she saw my bike. I asked who the guy was, but all she was willing to say to me was how sorry she was and offered $150 to pay for the bike.

Time was ticking. I had to get to the jail and blow into a tube or else I was going to spend the night in that jail. I had 15 minutes.

I pulled out my phone and called 911. Response was immediate. A police officer arrived in about two minutes. I explained what happened and also explained that I really had to get to the jail. The officer seemed a little surprised and amused but she understood the gravity of the situation and called down to say I’d be there after they took my statement.

Not long after, another patrol car pulled into the lot, but they had a passenger — the driver!

I explained what happened. Multiple officers listened in. I explained that I was on supervised probation for a felony DUI — my fifth DUI lifetime. Told them I was living in a sober home not far from here. They said they are very familiar with the house (the house was very nice, in a great neighborhood, no incidents, but the NIMBY neighbors called the police often). Another officer got the background of the driver. He was wanted for a 4th DUI in Iowa. He was drunk now and would be facing a 5th DUI.

The irony was immediate. Here was one person with 5 DUI’s riding a bike to a breathalyzer, seemingly trying to put his life back together, getting hit by a drunk driver about to face his 4th and 5th DUIs in two different states.

The officers loved the absurdity of this situation. They laughed. I tried to laugh. Hanging out and yukking it up with cops wasn’t what I typically categorized as fun, especially when on probation. But frankly, in that moment, every one of these officers saw the totality of the event and because no one was hurt, enjoyed the irony.

Of course, each one had to get a jab in and provide some unsolicited advice.

But it was the initial responding officer that made sure I’d remember this event. She asked, “What can we do for you?” Before I could respond, she said, “Do you want the money from them to pay for your bike?” I said no, I’ll figure something out. She then said, “Okay, let’s get you down to the jail, they are waiting for you. I’ll drive you there and drive you home or anywhere else you need to go, a meeting, the grocery store, you name it.”

Again, before I could respond, she was opening the trunk of her patrol car and tossing in my crushed bike.”

I told her “thank you” and that a ride home would be sufficient.

As I moved to get into the back seat of the police car, she laughed and said, “Get in front; I bet you’ve never seen the front seat of a police car before!”

Everyone laughed.

After doing the breathalyzer and riding home. I expressed my gratitude but worried out loud that having a police car pull up to the sober home might not go over well. She said that she’d make sure everyone of her fellow officers knew that we were decent people trying very hard to overcome a difficult situation.

For the next few months, police cruisers would honk and flash their lights when they saw me biking around town.

The entire situation was absurd. It also happened incredibly fast. From the moment I got hit to when I was dropped off at home, just over an hour had passed.

This was a karmic whiplash.

What do you do in a moment like this?

This was a log of adversity placed on top of an adversity bonfire. It kept the fire burning and propelled me through some really dark moments that would come after. It also opened a level of sensitivity to less in-your-face moments of irony. It also introduced me to the real world practice of mindfulness.

I don’t believe that things happen for a reason. That’s not the point of telling this story. I do believe that as things happen, we get to reason with the moment. We get to take that moment as if it were a piece of clay. We get to use this new information to shape a new future or enhance the one we’re already shaping.

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