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Saturday, June 17, 2006

An incident witnessed while scraping and painting the porch of my new house

We weren't able to do the repairs to my front porch - which, I have been assured, will take only a half-hour and will not require a building permit - today, but we're scheduled to do it Tuesday. I'll be there.

So instead I began scraping, sanding, priming, and painting the vertical boards that run around the sides of the porch today. Why just the verticals? I wasn't exactly positive that the color that I liked on the sample card - Behr's "Thoughtful Spot" from the Disney collection, a light sky/robin's egg blue - would look just right on my porch, so I wanted to start with the smallest container possible, which is a quart. Unfortunately, exterior floor (high wear resistance) paint only comes in the gallon size. So I had to settle for normal exterior paint not designed to be walked on. Fine, I thought, I'll just paint the non-wear areas of the porch.

So that's what I did. Four boards running along the sides of the porch. Each one needed to be scraped, sanded, wiped down, primed, and painted with two coats. I started off scraping, sanding, wiping, priming, and painting one coat on one board to get a sense of the color. Then I moved on to the next board - scrape, sand, wipe, and prime, by which point it was time to put a second coat on the first board. (It is amazing what a difference a new coat of paint makes appearance-wise. That, and the removal of all the curling, flaking, improperly-applied paint.)

It was while I was scraping and sanding the third board that I witnessed the incident.*

My new house is at the bottom of two long and steep hills. The one coming from the South begins about half a mile away - the street terminates at the top, so I can actually see all the traffic coming down it from the very beginning. Haley and I used to walk up to that point - the second-highest point in Nanticoke, after my church - and walk down the street past my grandmother's house. I always thought it would be cool to close off all the side streets and use the hill for skateboarding sometime.

The other hill comes down from the West just a block below the church. It terminates in a STOP sign. Not that that means much.

So I was there, scraping away at the third board. It was a beautiful day, a perfect day for painting, a perfect day for a motorcycle ride. Lots of people were out on their motorcycles. I watched one of them come down the long hill from the South. He was taking advantage of the relatively recent change in Pennsylvania law that has allowed motorcyclists to ride without helmets.

I watched him come down the hill from the South, and as I watched I was thinking about some friends who have motorcycles. Then I watched a car roll up to the STOP sign at the bottom of the other hill, the one that comes from the West, perpendicular to the path of travel of the motorcycle. Then I watched the car roll through the STOP sign at the bottom of the other hill. The driver came to a "slow", which most people believe is the functional equivalent of a STOP. It isn't.

It is difficult to see oncoming cross traffic at that intersection even when you have come to a complete stop, and cross traffic does not have a STOP sign - two excellent reasons to come to a complete stop there. The car was halfway through the intersection when the driver (or his passenger) noticed the motorcycle coming at him. Then the driver made another mistake. He hit his brakes instead of the gas.**

Had the driver hit the gas he might have avoided the collision, sailing past the point in space where the motorcycle was shortly going to be. Instead the accident unfolded in slow motion. The car had slowed to almost nothing, as had the motorcycle. I watched the helmetless motorcyclist lurch as his motorcycle coasted at a low velocity into the side of the nearly-stopped car.

I had my phone in my hand - I had had it outside with me, in case anyone called while I was painting - but something stopped me from calling 911. I don't know why. I haven't been shy about using it when I've seen dangerous debris on the highway, or burning cars on the side of the highway, or suicidal-looking teenage girls sitting on the sides of highway overpasses at midnight. But for some reason I didn't call today.

Quickly the motorcyclist got up, and the driver and passenger got out to assist, and everybody had cell phones out. Then the police showed up, and a fire truck, and an ambulance. All was well. No intervention on my part required, unless somebody needed a witness.

After a half-hour or so the accident scene was cleared and everyone was leaving. My mom and my aunt stopped by on their way home from church and I showed them my handiwork and told them about the accident.

About another half hour later another helmetless motorcyclist zoomed through the same intersection, doing about 75 in a 25 mph zone.

I wonder if he would have gone so fast if he knew about what had just happened?

*It was also while I was working on this third board, on the "spare" side of the house, the side that used to be rented out, that I discovered that the last tenants apparently had a staple fetish. Dozens of staples sticking out of the wood decorate every board on this side of the house. Why? Why? WHY?

**I was once driving home from work on the 4th of July, my first 4th of July at my job. I was taking advantage of the triple-time overtime pay that used to be paid for working offshift on a holiday. I was paying attention to traffic and cast my awareness about a quarter mile in the distance, a point where I would be in a little over 15 seconds. I noticed two deer, young, running at full gallop across the other side highway, miraculously being missed by oncoming traffic. As I got closer I saw them enter the grassy median. I knew that in a few seconds I would be on top of them. If I hit the brakes I might avoid the deer by having them pass in front of me, but I might then be rearended by all the highway traffic befind me. Instead I hit the gas, floored it, and watched them cross the highway through my rearview mirror.

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