It’s not normally advisable to stand in the middle of a street and linger, but the other day another man and I did this very thing. We found it’s OK to toss caution to the wind, to fly the highway to the danger zone, if you’re on Columbia Avenue in mid-afternoon when the elementary school is not in session. It’s also OK if the other man is “Big Rich” Estes, the Town of Telluride’s streets & utilities superintendent, whose nickname is in no way ironic and who’d probably win a smash-up with a smart car.
I’d asked Estes to meet me in the middle of the street to regard that 5-foot tall, sharp-edged metal street sign that’s always near the school, the one warning “STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS IN CROSSWALK.” I’ve obsessed over the sign since a collision with it three years ago left me bloody and unconscious on the asphalt. Estes gave the sign a once over and said, “By the looks of this thing, you’re not the only one to hit it.”
No, but I may have hit it the hardest.
Ever taken an ambulance ride you don’t remember? I have. On the night of June 16, 2015, I watched at a friend’s house as the NBA Finals concluded. In a manner common to men viewing a sports championship, we imbibed. Vodka, I think. Following the Warriors’ win, I pedaled home on my cruiser bike. I thought nothing of my buzz, as I’d cruised Columbia Avenue — the street on which I’ve resided for 20 years — 1,000 times in far worse condition. Riding a single-speed townie on Columbia is a mixed bag. It takes seriously strong pedal strokes to gain the apex a tad west of Oak Street, but once you do it’s a full-on gravity blast all the way to my place near Hotel Telluride. I normally go brakeless, accounting for the drain-pan dip at Townsend Street by pulling up the handlebars and absorbing the compression.
Only this time, the “STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS IN CROSSWALK” sign sat, inexplicably, in the middle of my lane. In pitch dark. They say that in skiing — and in life — you go where you look. Well, I was looking at the darn-tootin’ sign. I tagged the top of it with my eyebrow at 20 mph. Boom! No one saw my accident. But some teenagers a block away heard the thunderous crash of metal bike, metal sign and human skull against tarmac. They ran to the bloody mess and found me unresponsive. They called 911. The ambulance arrived, EMTs loaded my concussed and unconscious person into the meat wagon, and charged $900 for the two-block drive to the Telluride Regional Medical Center. I emerged from my concussion 45 minutes later to find my neighbor, friend and ER doctor Paul standing above me. Though he was in fact lacing 17 stitches into my right eyebrow, I believed we were at the same NBA party together. I gazed up at him through my delirium and croaked, “Hey Pablo! Why aren’t you drinking, man?” That’s when he ordered a CAT scan.
Is being hardheaded a good thing? In the literal sense, it sure is. Copious amounts of milk as a child apparently bequeathed above my neck a rock-hard cabeza. The crash did not break my neck nor did it crack my skull. The most notable aftereffect is the chip of retro-reflective sheet aluminum embedded in the flesh above my eye.
I’m actually glad I wasn’t wearing a helmet that night: I believe it would have channeled the sign directly into my eyeball … and instead of writing, I would have been forced to secure employment as a pirate.
A light sure would have helped, though.
Since I’m not the type to take responsibility for my own actions and decisions, I’ve fixated these last three years on the unseen bastard who nudged the sign from the middle of Columbia to the westbound lane. The accident occurred a couple days before the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, so I’ve oft wondered if a Porta-Potty truck needed more room. Or if high school hooligans moved it as a prank. Perhaps the sign was perfectly centered on Columbia that night when a drunk driver sideswiped it into the westbound lane.
The root of the mystery, really, is how long the sign was in the wrong place … and if I had a case worthy of legal representation. I consulted a lawyer once. His view, essentially, was that a dumbass riding drunk without a light on a moonless night had zero case, and to please get out of my office now.
After June 15, 2015, the sign, interestingly, seemed rooted to the north side of Columbia. I never saw it in the middle of the street again until a few weeks ago, when it suddenly showed up in the Townsend Street crosswalk.
Why? Answered Estes, “Many people move signs around here. It could have been code enforcement. Or a cautious parent. There’s a lot of safety-conscious people in town.” He added that Telluride’s street signs and flower boxes get hit all the time.
Estes said the sign that took me out is 18 inches wide and stands 57 inches tall. It costs about $150. I told him I hated the damn thing. He said he understood, but “if that sign has saved one single kid, it’s worth any problems with collisions.”
Only one question remained: Why was the sign near the elementary school both in 2015 and on Tuesday when classes were closed for summer? “It shouldn’t be,” Estes agreed, “So I’m going to take it with me” back to the public works building.
Then Big Rich grabbed the battered hunk of metal, loaded it in his truck and drove away.