Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Just when you think

I like to think that I've seen a lot of things. While I haven't traveled the world over, or ranged too far from a certain comfort zone, I like to think that between CT, work in New York and D.C., travels to China, and college in Hanover, New Hampshire, I've been exposed to a lot of sights and sounds.

But nothing prepared me for what I saw on my way home from work this afternoon.

As I walked towards the Farragut West Metro Station down Connecticut Ave along with my fellow D.C. workers going home after a day of toil, I noticed an ambulance on 17th Street, on the other side of the intersection.

The light had just turned green, and my fellow commuters and I prepared to cross the road. But before we could take a step, the ambulance lights went on, the siren started blast, and the ambulance began to turn right, onto K St. The policewoman directing traffic immediate held up her hands at us to stop.

Everyone held still to wait for the ambulance to make its turn. Except for one person.

A late twentysomething Caucasian man, wearing a Nationals cap, dark-rimmed glasses sitting on a clean shaven face, started riding his bike through the intersection. He must have had headphones on, because that's the only way he could have possibly NOT known that there was an ambulance turning into his path.

Since the ambulance had not sped up yet on its rescue mission, wherever that might be, it was able to come to a stop before it hit him. Only then did the man see the ambulance. As he rode past the drivers side, he turned to look at the driver.

They exchanged glances.

The man on the bike extended his middle finger.

At an ambulance. With its sirens and flashing lights advertising its haste.

With an incredulous look on his face, the man driving the ambulance pulled away. He obviously had more important matters to attend to. The guy on the bike then looked up, noticed that everyone at the intersection was not moving, but was instead staring at him. He muttered "asshole," under his breath at the departing ambulance, and sped off on his way.

The moment broken by his departure, everyone at the intersection started moving again. Several people were clearly shocked by what they had seen. I was one of them.

I don't pretend that an urban setting like D.C. or Manhattan doesn't have its share of rude individuals. In fact, city dwellers often pride themselves on it. I've seen the suits swear at homeless, the homeless swear at the suits, the old ladies swear at the tourists, the mothers with kids in tote curse at protesters, and so on and so forth.

But in all my experiences in a city, I have never, ever seen someone flip off and then curse at an ambulance. An on-duty ambulance with its sirens on, no less.

It was something that shook the people around me too. We are all desensitized to some extent by the city. Rudeness is expected. It's not really that everyone in a city is rude, I think. With so many more people, and with so many varying goals and destinations, there is bound to be a select few who simply can't be bothered to be courteous. I would venture that there are just as many courteous people - the rude ones just tend to be a little louder.

We still take them in stride though. An accidental bump and a subsequent curse is nothing to really dwell on. But today? That was different. Who curses an ambulance? Did he think that whereever he was biking to was more important, more urgent than someone's potentially mortal call for help? Did a typical veneer of bravado, applied before going to work like so much makeup, just slip out, purely out of habit?

I like to think that perhaps it was the latter, that he treated it as he would any car that cut him off as he biked through an intersection without warning. That as he rode on, he wondered about his words and actions and perhaps felt a little guilty, or at least embarrassed.

I like to think that he would have at least that decency and humanity to feel those emotions. Because if he didn't, perhaps the city is more desensitizing than I had ever imagined.


Blogger William Li said...

People can do insensitve things in the suburb and in farm country too, Will. Having given this a lot of thought, I believe that the main reason you see more people do more insenstive things in the city is because there are simply more people there.

2:45 PM  

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