I left Mom’s early on Christmas afternoon, exactly when the freezing rain that had been predicted for early that morning had decided to begin.
Carefully edging my crappy rental Hyundai down the icy driveway, I found my way out to the main road and headed northeast, sticking to highways and driving slowly. At dusk, I got off I-95 and headed south on Route 1 to Crystal City.
I’d used some of my bank account points (like frequent flyer miles) to book a free Holiday Inn room at National Airport, choosing that hotel for its free wifi and general airport accessibility. That is, I knew where it was.
And when I pulled into the Holiday Inn parking structure, I realized why its location was so ingrained in my subconscious.
It’s where I was hit by a car in my early teens.
I’d frequently bike through Del Ray to the bike path at Four Mile Run. If I continued on from there, I could lock up my bike in Crystal City and see a movie, visit the video arcade, or catch the Metro into DC, where there were all kinds of free things for teenager to do. I could go to museums at the Smithsonian, to the zoo, just wander around Georgetown or Eastern Market, or I could roam the “secret” passages under Capitol Hill, exploring the connections between the House and Senate office buildings and the US Capitol.
This knowledge would come in handy later in college when I was a courier for Associated Press. But I’m sure today’s local kids don’t have this same privilege. By the time I was working on Capitol Hill, ID badges were necessary to go just about anywhere indoors.
The last time I did this—and I don’t remember the year but am guessing I was around 13 or 14—I’d ridden north on the Route 1 sidewalk, and at the Holiday Inn, a driver was racing out of the driveway, anxiously looking left at oncoming traffic and hurrying to pull his car out in a gap. It didn’t occur to him to glance right in case of pedestrians. Certainly it would not have occurred to him to check for cyclists. I wouldn’t have been on the sidewalk at all if there had been any other way to cover this mile in between the path and the local roads.
I could see the whole incident playing out split-seconds before it did, but there wasn’t time to stop. I veered into oncoming traffic as I braked, and he slammed into me.
Then my ten-speed Huffy was flat and twisted on Route 1 and then I was scrambling up, scraped but unhurt, and desperate to get out of the highway. I stumbled onto the sidewalk. The driver was shocked. He stopped his car, got out, and was nervously stuttering.
“I didn’t see you. I didn’t even know you were there. Here, take twenty dollars. Call me if it’s more to fix the bike. Here’s my number.”
He wrote down his name and number on a scrap of paper. I pulled my bike up on the sidewalk, watching him drive away. I looked down at the scrap. I would never call that number, even though it was well over $100 to fix the bike. That bike would later be stolen from my porch in Ohio from Thanos when he was staying in my apartment while I was on a co-op in some other state. But by then, it had a broken pedal and c’mon, it was a kid’s Huffy. It was time to move on to a better bicycle anyway.
And here I was now, checking into that same Holiday Inn. The restaurant where the Other Marie and I used to go in later high school years—for their delicious peppermint ice cream—was closed for Christmas. I’d checked in but I’d have to go back out in my car in the freezing rain to find some chow.