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Life in the Fast Lane

On Friday night, GC and I went to Elmak’s art show at La Petite Mort Gallery. I meant to tell you about it before the show, so you could go too, but unfortunately I dropped that ball.

Elmaks is the street artist who created the Swap Boxes. The show was great, and GC bought a painting inspired by Kafka’s Metamorphosis. There was a fabulous octopus box that I craved, but it had already been sold.

Later GC and I were walking back to the car and a very stoned young woman on a bicycle came up behind us on the sidewalk, and graciously smashed into a taxi on the side of the road. She landed in a heap at our feet and mumbled “Ow ow ow” a few times. We asked her if she was okay.

“Yeah,” she said unconvincingly. She had an open wound next to her eye.

“You have a cut beside your eye,” said GC.

“I already had that,” she said.

“Are you okay?” I asked again, because I didn’t know what to do other than keep asking her if she was okay.

“Yeah,” she said, “My shoulder hurts.”

“Is it okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “It’s not from this accident, it was already dislocated.”

I noticed she had a very large, thick railroad-track scar running down the center of her chest and disappearing down her shirt.

The taxi driver got out of his car.

“What you doing coming this way?” he demanded. I think he meant the wrong side of the road, against the traffic, and on the sidewalk.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t want to run into the people.”

That was us. We were the people. I was touched, actually, that stoned as she was, she chose to run into a car rather than us.

“Why you do so much drugs?” he demanded, throwing his hands up in the air. “You gonna get yourself killed.”

“Fuck you,” she said as he got back in his car. “Why don’t you go back to your own country?”

They both threw these insults out half-heartedly, haphazardly, like they didn’t really mean them.

I asked her again if she was okay (honestly, I was starting to annoy myself), and she assured me she was. Then she got on her bike and careened off again.

We spotted her again when we were in the car, heading home. She was weaving and wobbling like a five year old who just got her training wheels taken off. GC gave her a very wide berth, and she got a bit better as she picked up speed. But she was still going the wrong way, against the lights, all over the road.

It occurred to me that this probably wasn’t her bike. She just acquired it somehow, a little earlier in the day. She was using it until someone stole it from her, and they would use it til someone stole it from them. Or maybe it would get traded for a little something something along the way. In any case, I like to think she didn’t have the bike for long, and she’s still relatively safe out there somewhere on the streets of Ottawa.

As for the bike, I’d love to follow it around for a day or two and document its adventures.

5 comments to Life in the fast lane

  • Sometimes I wonder in those situations whether it might be a good idea to call 911 and see what they suggest, as the person can really be a danger to herself. One winter day, I saw a guy keel over in the parking lot at College Square. He went right over backwards without trying to save himself, although it did appear that he had slipped on some ice. It took me a minute to get over to him and when I did, he was still lying on the ground, staring up at the sky, although obviously conscious and aware. When I asked him if he needed help, he said “no” but it was clear he needed something, because he was lying on his back in the middle of the road. I talked to him and suggested that it might be good if he got out of the road and he agreed but made no effort to get up. I asked him if he had hit his head and he agreed. He was very agreeable. I smelled alcohol on him and he did appear impaired although that can be deceptive especially as he might have been suffering low blood sugar or something. But his appearance suggested it was a case of being impaired, more than a medical problem. By then, another person had come over on foot and we got the man up and sitting on the sidewalk. I asked the other helper if we should call 911 and he thought it might be wise, so we did. I waited with the man until the ambulance came and told them what I knew and then let them handle it. The man kept saying he was all right and even tried walking away a couple of times but he wasn’t really able to make it very far and he wasn’t combative. Obviously, your girl was able to keep going. But it’s a conundrum.

  • There’s a new Swap box in town, in the alcove just to the east of the eastbound Rideau St. bus shelters…

  • XUP

    Yes, further to what Julia said, what’s our moral obligation here? If you saw a drunk trying to get in his car to drive away, I think most of us would try to stop him, wouldn’t we? If we saw someone about to jump off a bridge, we would try to stop them, too. Riding a bike while stoned might not seem like such a clear-cut situation, but really she could easily get herself killed and she could easily be a danger to others. I know it’s one of those things that you can assess a lot better in hindsight that while you’re actually in the situation, but it makes for an interesting question.

  • A new swap box! It’s been a long time since I heard those words. I’ll try to get down there tonight.

    Julia and XUP – you might be right. Somehow I can’t see myself calling the police on her though. I might try to talk her out of riding stoned (although I didn’t, in this case) but calling the police seems pretty drastic.

  • XUP

    No, I wouldn’t have called the police either. I probably would have done just what you did. But when I sit back and think about it, I’d reconsider.