Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Screech To A Halt (A Non-Sequel)

(The parentheses in the title refers to another episode of The McVie Show that is similarly titled but with very different screech-to-a-halt circumstances.)

* * * * *

Just this Saturday morning I was driving down this very narrow one-way street in Marikina. It’s the kind of street where the sidewalk is practically non-existent, with eskenitas that are hidden from view from the main road by walls of houses. I wasn’t going fast since the road was narrow. But my phone’s SMS alert chimed in with, “Hu-wears da par-tey? I wanna par-tey!” so I reached out to get my phone (which was just on the dashboard in front).

From one of the small side streets a toddler darted out, around 1 to 1-and-a-half years old, and I knew he was just starting to walk unaided because his arms were flailing about and his pace was wobbly. And without hesitation he stepped off the sidewalk and careened into the middle of the street.

Here’s where the Matrix moment started.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the toddler’s father run out after him. I knew he knew I was barreling towards his son because his movements quickened and he flung himself forward to grab his out-of-control kid. In fairness, that was his paternal instinct kicking in; I knew from the way he was moving his body that he was putting himself in between my car and his child. But in his haste, he tripped. He was able to grab hold of his kid, but the momentum of him tripping had him falling on top of his child. Both hit the pavement, but a second later the dad was able to twist around so that he was able to lift his kid out of the road and, in one fluid movement, he pressed his child into his bosom. But the shock of having a huge weight fall on him and meeting the pavement face-to-face had taken its toll—the child started wailing and crying, albeit I guess more out of shock than physical pain.

Meanwhile my thoughts went something like this: phone, wait—a kid, not stopping, dad, trip, shield child—wow!—oh no, he fell, crying, safe.

And somewhere between “kid” and “not stopping” my brain made an almost unconscious decision that my body acted out of instinct. My right foot shifted from accelerator and floored the brake pedal, while my left foot slammed on the clutch.

Screeeeeeech! Orlando screamed in protest but obeyed. And with barely ten feet between him and the father and son, Orlando halted. The sudden stop was so hard that my bag, which was on the passenger’s seat beside me, flew to the floor, spilling its contents. The screech was so loud, people from several houses down the street stepped out of their houses, searching for a commotion.

Meanwhile my breathing, which momentarily stopped, resumed its normal state. My heart, which may have missed a beat, immediately relaxed its quickened pace. My facial expression didn’t even have time to change. I stared blankly at the dad, who by this time had stood up and was carrying his crying child back into their house. He couldn’t even bear to look me in the eye; instead, with a sheepish yet grateful smile on his face, he waved a gesture towards me, something like, “Excuse us for what just happened.” I just waved them off to the side, and continued my way. I could see the curious neighbors craning their heads to see what they had missed.

It’s not driving skills but years of experience that helped prevent me running over the kid. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story Of Success, he points out that in success stories we forget that it’s not genius or talent alone that helped someone become successful; often we forget the hours of experience needed to hone skills. In driving, it is experience that really teaches you and makes every movement and decision you make almost second nature. My driving skills will not land me in the European Grand Prix, but years of driving every day have helped me stop my car just in time, with a few feet to spare.

And yet I realized just how arbitrarily close that incident could have become tragic. Had the SMS alert rung earlier, had I been reading the message, had the kid walked towards Orlando and not away from us—just change a few circumstances and I would know precisely what the mother who sandwiched a student in between vehicles in a freakish accident at the Ateneo grade school must be going through right now.

Just a simple twist of the fates and several people’s lives would have screeched to a halt in that instant.


dr magsasaka said...

Lucky, skillful you.

But, that is the reason why cell phones are dangerous while driving.

Mugen said...

And you should thanks the fates for siding with you this time. Nice story.

Ming Meows said...

yang si ate vi talaga pahamak

MkSurf8 said...

reading this reminds me of the scene where cate b. was hit by a cab in b. button. but yours is the opposite. thank God.

btw, i love that book by Gladwell.

Aris said...

pareho kami ni mksurf8, yun ding sa benjamin button ang naalala ko. buti na lang walang nangyaring masama. in the past, i have witnessed somebody na nasagasaan. jusko, i was so horrified ilang gabi akong hindi nakatulog!

joelmcvie said...

@MKSURF8 & @ARIS: Well, I did reference "The Matrix" already, so why not evoke another movie also? =)

sky said...

Lucky you the other party was apologetic.

If you don't know my story, ask Phillip na lang.

Quentin X said...

Time to buy a blueant.