It is 7am in the morning. I see I have a missed called from Mom. I call back.
“Hi honey!! I just wanted to know: do you ‘serve’ a Fellowship? What do you do?”
To which I respond with the golden reply most kids give in response to their parents:
“Mom, I don’t know.”
We discuss the semantics of participating in a Fellowship program and how someone describes that to other people. She then asks me if I received my yellow reflector vest in the mail the other day, to which I confirm that it was delivered last Tuesday. Then she asks if it fits, to which I reply “yes”. After some five minutes, I tell Mom that I have to leave for work, that we’ll chat later.
I step outside into the fog and get my bike out to make the short trek to work. As I ride through the dense curtain of fog, I start thinking that it probably would have been smart to wear the reflector vest.
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Six days earlier, I was in a car accident off of Interstate 10, just past the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning, California. I had hit my brakes and slid into the next lane, getting clipped by an oncoming SUV on my passenger headlight. Thankfully, no one was hurt and (this is of the lowest priority) my car still ran afterwards, despite missing a front bumper and both headlights. It also helped that everyone involved was polite (due in no small part to no one being injured).
The absence of my car was felt, however, not because I have some emotional attachment to it, but because, with exception of perhaps of the Bay Area and San Francisco, it is very tough to get around without a car in the state of California.
Car culture permeates everywhere: it infects the way we look at infrastructure, the way we set up our public transit systems, the social dynamics of our everyday life. The Inland Empire, the region of California east of Los Angeles, isn’t any different: if you drive on the 91 or 60 freeways to go ten miles, you realize it can take you 45 minutes depending on the time of day and which direction you are going.
There is very little public transit to go this distance, and even less that is convenient- good luck getting to downtown Riverside from Moreno Valley on a bike OR bus within an appropriate time frame. Were I to go to downtown Riverside, I’d probably have to shell out $20 on a Lyft, a significant sum of money on the meager stipend that my Fellowship gig is currently serving.
For a few days after the car accident, I feel like my independence was robbed.
My sadness was pervasive, even as I reported the accident to my insurance company the following day: the representative was compelled to interject a stoic “Are you okay?” after they asked me what happened, my voice shaking as I recounted the collision.
Soon the blame and sadness began turning to gratitude and thankfulness, however: grateful that I could still get around, and thankful that no one was hurt. It’s strange how the absence of a car, even in rainy weather, can be paradoxically cathartic. Having the rain make contact with your face and obscure your vision by accumulating on your glasses is an excellent way to reconnect with the outside world.
It helped that I was near all of the essentials in my day-to-day life (originally because I wanted a short commute to work, in retrospect a super smart decision). The only thing questionable was where I’m going to do laundry, as my landlord (while also not having WiFi) doesn’t allow me to use his washer and dryer.
I began dreaming that this was the timeline where I ditch the car altogether and opt to buy a horse instead, indignantly riding everywhere, norms of whether horses are an acceptable way of traveling in MoVal be damned.
Few car accidents on interstates end as passively as mine did, especially on ones as troubling and busy as the 10. My car, though operational, cannot be resold, and will likely not be fixed to selling condition. But my dad, in a phone call the night after, put it succinctly:
“Alan, it’s just a piece of metal. You are insured, and no one was hurt. Accidents rarely end like yours did.”
And then in reply to my worry that I would be sued for anything:
“Alan, no one is going to sue you, you’re not worth anything.”
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It’s Monday morning, two days after the accident. I wash my hair, brush my teeth, dress myself in a button down and my favorite pair of chinos. I put on my double-breasted coat, button it to the highest portion, sling my messenger bag over my shoulders, and get my bike out from my now vacant garage.
I ride down the street. It’s 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the Inland Empire, cold as can be for my desert ass, but it’s nice to feel the cold air meeting my face.
I get to work, put my bike in my cubicle, and get a hot cup of coffee. It’s not for the caffeine: my thumbs felt like they were about to freeze off.
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