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Hit A Pedestrian, Go Play The Piano

It’s really difficult to do, especially immediately, in that order. I had decades of making trips to play in the evening, navigating on LA’s rush hour streets. Thousands of times, half-a dozen different major hotels, and never an accident. Except this once. And it happened right around the corner from where I was expected to play, 50 yards from the piano bench. Unbelievably, something was to result from this whole ordeal that would be a permanent improvement to the city of Beverly Hills.

It was an early December evening and the last 15 minutes of “famous” daylight ebbed as the sky and the town both prepared for a chilly night. Taking my usual route, I approached the Beverly Wilshire, not in a hurry, not late, just rolling along. I had reached the final stop sign, after which I had another 300 feet to go before I would turn into the hotel driveway, leave my car with the valets and go on inside. I went forward slowly down the short remaining bit of street. The revered William Morris Building was just on my left, familiar, like a daily roadside friend.

Suddenly an obscure figure bounded straight toward me and slammed hard into the front fender of my car, with a sickening crack and violent crumpling sound. The body spilled out onto the hood, almost going over to the other side, and remained in a folded heap right on top. I saw what looked like a cell phone go flying through the air. I was startled and horrified. I stopped instantly, which then caused the body to slide off the front end onto the pavement. I got out, dreading the worst case scenario—that I had taken a life.

Lo and behold, when I peered under the bumper I saw someone slowly crawling, stiffly trying to sit up. I gingerly supported her and raised her up. With great relief, I said “Are you all right? Did you really not see me?? What happened?” I sounded like an ass. No answer. Just a face filled with scratches, shock and woe. And she was looking at me like I had turned her into an eternal walking dead person, and was not pleased about it. I didn't push the issue any further, I just wanted the whole thing to go away. She looked around for her cell phone, to find that it had been smashed into pieces. The driver behind me had stopped in his tracks, had his lights on and was calling 911. So was I. So too, were countless others. I called the Beverly Wilshire. Meanwhile, a growing crowd was gathering.

The person I had hit (or as it truly happened, hit me) refused to speak until the police arrived. We both gave statements, and I had to be honest-I did not see her until a millisecond before she smacked into my moving car. As I was talking, I started looking for some logic to all of this. No crosswalk! Dark outside? And the pedestrian was wearing a flat black pants suit and had been covering her face (and her side vision) by holding the phone up, actually talking while attempting to scurry across the dark street. She couldn’t have picked out a more covert, stealthy invisible outfit for invisibility or night robbery if she’d tried. I told the cops that not only had she been on the phone, but also she was traveling really quickly, as though something other than street sensibility was on her mind. It was dark enough for me not to see her till it was too late, partly because of how fast she was walking. I looked at my parked car and noticed she had badly cracked the windshield with her body. You don’t do that from just moseying slowly along. Then I looked up at the Morris Building to see that every window was filled with an intently observant face, looking down on the scene. Agents and entertainment personnel no doubt, indicting me, Mr. Defendant Perpetrator, mauler of one of their own, as I leaned against the lamppost for support, talking to cops. There! That’s him! Guilty!

Then the Beverly Hills Ambulance showed up, with great fanfare, blaring sirens, staff of trauma-trained medics, as ordered by the cops, for precautionary reasons. Although she was conscious through all this, they carefully immobilized her, strapped her into a stretcher and whisked her away, siren blaring, red lights casting an alarming color all over the area. I was glad they took care of her though, I still couldn’t believe she was awake after what had happened. I was also relieved they took her out of the view of all the people who would no doubt be forming their own opinions based on how the scene looked. To them I must have seemed like some brutal butcher of nice employees. She had more than likely come from the Morris building in her fateful big hurry, it’s the only other building on that block besides the hotel. The number of viewers’ faces in the windows was increasing, their having been lured by the sirens, the flashing red lights. Oh Lord, I thought, I’m going to be raked over the coals by city, law enforcement, emergency response, entertainment agency and attorney alike. It felt like all day that I’d been standing in the light of implied fault and felony.

Finally, everything was said and done, there was nothing left to do except drive the last few feet into the hotel driveway, go in and play. I had to go in, it was too late to cancel, and I was hoping to shake off this shock. The evening turned out to be just jarring. The sound and the vision the collision between car and body kept replaying in my head. I still didn’t know if she was ok or slowly losing consciousness in a cold hospital room, nor even where they had taken her. There was no comfort even in being told by the cops that I could leave the scene, after I had done my civil duty. And the playing went on. I felt like an entirely different person. Who am I? Some violent motorized terminator, destroyer of an innocent person’s whole life? Rendering her from simply crossing the street, to facing gloom, doom, and a new reality? And then, la-dee-da, I just go tinkle the keys and sing for people? What the heck am I doing? I tried to keep telling myself I didn’t do it on purpose, but I knew that the only cure would be time.

The next morning at home, in the brilliant daylight, I waited for the friendly mobile windshield replacement guy. More alarm now, for I noticed that a few strands of her hair were still trapped in the cracked glass, held firmly in place by the fissures made in the windshield from the impact, looking like some haunted horror exhibit. The horror turned into dread and fear as the phone started ringing and her insurance company took aim. But I wasn’t going to be fed to the wolves just yet. My insurance company just happened to be a large serious one, not a fly-by-night “Fred’s Insurance” or something. No sir, these people had a certain memorable ad campaign about being a good neighbor? Well I was soon to find they were more than just a good neighbor. They were my bodyguard, warrior, equalizer, all in one. Why? Because three times that pedestrian tried to sue. Over the next few weeks, my insurance kept denying it and throwing the case out. State Farm kept telling me not to worry, that it was groundless, they had tirelessly investigated and found I that I had more than enough evidence. Apparently she had gambled too steeply with her own safety and had to take some responsibility for this. But that didn’t deter her from retaining a lawyer and repeatedly coming after me. She had no glaring life-threatening nor major recuperation type injuries, but perhaps had been advised that she needed to sue me. I remember during my grueling taped deposition, hearing my own voice shake, and telling myself to just tell the truth. In hindsight, the shakiness and woe in my voice probably helped my case. After all, the truth is the truth, and my story stood up to repeated attacks and clarifications. It never varied, and was corroborated by the wonderful driver behind me! Still, I felt awful for a long time, deep in the pit of my stomach. I had hurt someone.

One night, a few weeks later, after normalcy had returned, I was nearing my destination, on the same trip to that same marvelous hotel. Same time. Same streets. Same final stop sign before turning into the hotel driveway. Yet something suddenly was not the same. Now, in those final few feet, I found myself bathed in the new glare of a daylight-bright light. The city of Beverly Hills had installed a brand new floodlight, on the roof of the Morris Building, aimed directly onto the street area where my accident occurred, to help insure that this type of mishap would never happen again. A beacon of truth and goodness? I looked upon it as my gift to the city of Beverly Hills (not to mention, to William Morris, thank-you-very-much!). Now, the names of the persons involved are all but forgotten. But the light remains, as a reminder to all: If you don’t run from an accident, that could be just the first of the good things to come from it.


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