Martha and I were walking down the street…Downer Street, if I recall correctly…heading north from the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. We were close to the Kinko’s, which was on the west side of the north-south trending street, and about to cross. We were in fact off the curb and checking for traffic. A car was heading to the north, away from us. Since we were walking north and crossing the street diagonally, we were looking at the car from behind, but I could see that the light blue sedan was driven by a middle-aged woman with curly hair and largish glasses. Heading south, towards us, was a man on a bicycle. He had short dark hair, was large-framed and about 6 feet and 1 or 2 inches in height, driving a white or gray ten-speed bike. It might have been a Peugeot.
The bike was heading south at a reasonable clip, but he had stopped pedaling about 100 feet back. The car was slowing and had a left signal on, indicating that she would turn into the driveway of the bank just north of Kinko’s. That would be across the path of the oncoming bike, if she continued. But she was stopped.
It was obvious that the bike rider assumed that the car would stay stopped and let him continue before she made her turn. Therefore, he did not slow down much. But, just as the two vehicles were about 20 feet apart, the car made a small jerking motion, as if the driver was adjusting her foot on the brake. At no point, however, did she move forward. I do note, however, that her front tires were turning left as this was all happening. Depending on what the bike rider saw, he may have reasonably interpreted the signs and signals to mean that this car was about to pull in front of him. I’m pretty sure, however, that this was not going to happen.
The bike rider slammed on his brakes, but it seems that the front brake stuck more firmly than the back brake. The bike stopped instantly and the rear tire started to swing around to the right. But that was irrelevant now, because the bike rider, who was already leaning forward on the handle bars as per normal, was in the air.
He flew up into the air and over the front of the bike, and as he did so, his body rotated 90 degrees and his legs rotated 180 degrees. So, there was a moment in time when this large framed man looked like this:
This is a stick figure like a cartoon, but it is not meant to be funny. It is decidedly not funny. The point of this figure is to illustrate so there is no ambiguity this statement: The second to last experience this man had was being perfectly upside down, with his entire body up in the air and no contact with anything but the air around him.
The last experience he had was his head being pounded into the pavement with the full weight of his body.
He collapsed to the ground and convulsed. I said to Martha “Go into Kinko’s and call 911,” which she did. The nearest rescue facility with an ambulance was almost in sight a couple of blocks up the street, so they would be there in a moment.
I ran over to the man and made myself look big so that cars coming down the street would notice us and not run us over. He was now on his side convulsing heavily and continuously. His convulsing was causing his head and neck to whip around, so I got down and held his body in place so he would damage himself less.
The woman who was driving the car got out and was staring. Two people who had walked out of a local store and did not see the accident came over and yelled at me.
“Leave him alone!” one of them screamed at me.
“He’s an epileptic! He’s just having an epileptic fit! Don’t treat him like he was sick or something.”
The woman who had been driving the car was distraught. She said “I didn’t hit him! I don’t know how this happened! I was waiting for him to go by!”
He continued to convulse. Martha came out of Kinko’s and was standing nearby helping to keep traffic from either hitting us or causing a jam that would make it hard for the ambulance to come down the street. The ambulance was there in moments, and just as the EMTs came rushing over, the man with the bike stopped convulsing. He stopped moving. Eyes that were rolled back in his head became a blank stare.
I lied to Martha. I said I thought he’d probably be OK. It seemed to me that he was dead. To this day, I do not actually know. Perhaps he simply lived the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Or maybe he was fine.
Oh, did I mention? He was not wearing a helmet.